Former Open Champion Tom Lehman sealed a wire-to-wire victory in the 2011 European Senior Tour season-ending MCB Tour Championship after surviving a captivating final round battle with David Frost in Mauritius.
The 2006 United States Ryder Cup Captain carded a final round 71 for a 12 under par total of 204 to hold off South African Frost by a single stroke, on a day when Australian Peter Fowler sealed the Senior Tour Order of Merit.
Lehman, who defeated Frost and Fred Couples in a play-off to win the 2010 US Senior PGA Championship, was making his debut in a regular Senior Tour event and the victory was his fourth of 2011 following three wins on the US Champions Tour where he topped the Money List.
“This is a special win for me,” said Lehman. ““When you come somewhere like Mauritius and they make you feel so welcome you feel a sense of urgency to play well to say thank you. I had a great desire to play the best I could to say thank you to everyone.
“But on top of that, to play in the Senior Tour’s Tour Championship against so many great players, so many friends, and to win really does mean a lot to me.”
Lehman had started the final round at Constance Belle Mare Plage with a two shot advantage, which was maintained when both players bogeyed the third hole. Frost then closed the gap to one shot with a birdie on the fourth but relinquished it again on the next hole. .
A further birdie from the South African on the eighth hole meant the pair entered the back nine separated by just a single stroke. Lehman carded his first birdie of the round on the 13th hole, which was matched by Frost who then drew level with Lehman for the first time when he holed six foot birdie putt on the 14th.
The turning point came on the 15th when Frost dropped another shot and Lehman took full advantage on the next hole to restore his overnight two stroke cushion. Frost was bidding for a unique double of winning twice at the same venue in a season following his play-off win in the Mauritius Commercial Bank Open 12 months ago and he set up another tense finale when he birdied on the 17th to go to the final hole one shot adrift.
However there was to be no repeat of his previous heroics when he had eagled the closing hole to take Roger Chapman into extra holes, as Frost pushed his drive into the bushes and despite a majestic three wood third shot to 30ft he could not hole the birdie putt, leaving Lehman needing only a par to take the title.
“David’s been giving me a great battle all year and this was no different,” said Lehman. “We’ve been in a few tournaments together and I’ve just been a fraction better it seems.
“He played extremely well the last two days and I thought he outplayed me but I had a big enough lead and managed to hang on.”
“That birdie on the 16th just to get the lead back was important. I played pretty well the front nine but just didn’t make any birdies. Then I finally made a birdie on the 13th and then again on the 16th to get the lead back and not only that but a two shot lead after David made a bogey on the 15th. That gave me the cushion I needed and it was great to get the victory.
“This was my 29th tournament of the year – the most I’ve ever played since I was on the mini-Tours – so to come here and finish off this year with a victory is great for me.”
Frost’s closing 70 to finish runner up helped him move from 17th to seventh on the final 2011 Order of Merit, while Englishman Nick Job was six shots further back in third on five under par for his only top ten finish on 2011.
Former Ryder Cup Teammates Gordon J Brand and Sam Torrance both posted rounds of 66 to share fourth place on four under par.
In the battle for the Order of Merit, Fowler recovered from back-to-back double bogeys on the fifth and sixth holes to end his year with a round of 73 and record his 13th top ten finish of the season in seventh place, ten shots behind Lehman.
His cheque of €14, 814 was enough to hold to give him the John Jacobs Trophy ahead of Englishman Barry Lane, who finished in a share ninth place on level par following a closing 73.