They say the finest sportsmen produce their best form when it matters most, and Ricardo Santos certainly proved he is a man for the big occasion when he stormed to victory in the Madeira Islands Open – Portugal with a magnificent 63 in the final round.
Starting the day four shots off the lead held by Carlos Del Moral, the 29 year old ruthlessly slashed the Spaniard’s advantage with four birdies in his first eight holes, leaving him neck and neck with a surging Andreas Hartø for much of the back nine.
While his fellow competitors faded, however, Santos turned the screw, posting two more birdies at the 12th and 13th holes to move into the lead before producing a finale the best golfers in the world would be proud of. A birdie at the 16th was followed by another gain at the par three 17th where he holed a snaking 40ft putt to all but guarantee victory.
At the 18th, to the delight of the crowds gathered around the green, he hit his second shot to two feet and holed out for yet another birdie to set a new record low total – 22 under par 266 – for the event.
The first Portuguese player to win a European Tour event on home soil, and the first Portuguese winner of any European Tour title since 1992, Santos again showed nerves of steel in a final round.
It was a similar situation when the Vilamoura man won his first Challenge Tour title last summer, in The Princess by Schüco in Sweden. Trailing by two shots heading into the final round – ironically to Hartø, with whom he battled it out for much of the final day – Santos romped to a three shot victory with a six under par 66, which featured a four-hole run of birdies on the back nine.
That was the highlight of an extremely consistent on the Challenge Tour, during which he had eight top ten finishes to take fourth place in the Rankings with earnings of €97,516.
This season – his first on The European Tour – he has showed glimpses of his potential, finishing tied tenth in the Avantha Masters in India in February and tied 23rd in the Volvo China Open last month; but the triumph in Madeira means he can play the rest of the year safe in the knowledge he has a one-year exemption to golf’s top tier.
The win not only earned him €112,500 and the opportunities being a European Tour champion affords, it was extra special as it was in his home country in front of many friends and family members – including his elder brother Hugo, who also played in the tournament.
Santos, overcome with emotion, said: “This course is very special as I played here many times as a junior and did well here when I was an amateur. It has been an unbelievable week and it will be tough to beat this win. I don’t have the words to describe how happy I am.”
Hugo Santos, who represented Portugal with his younger brother in last year’s Mission Hills World Cup, said: “It is a fantastic day. I watched Ricardo from the fifth hole onwards and had a good feeling he was going to win. He was just playing brilliantly. When the long putt went in on the 17th and everyone went wild, it was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Santos will now reassess his schedule for the rest of the season, as he has the luxury of being able to be more selective about what events he plays.
“I am definitely playing in the BMW PGA Championship now, as I was only on the reserve list before I won,” he said. “After that I will take a holiday, spend some time with my family and let it all sink in.”