Gary Wolstenholme claimed his second European Senior Tour victory in the space of three weeks after a five under par final round of 66 was enough to see off the challenge of Mark James and Mark Mouland in a thrilling finale at the Benahavis Senior Masters.
The 2011 Senior Tour Rookie of the Year emerged from the pack midway through a roller coaster day at La Quinta Golf and Country Club, thanks to five birdies in the space of six holes either side of the turn.
The lead was exchanged back and forth between five different players and Wolstenholme was at one point four shots behind his playing partner and former Ryder Cup Captain James.
He staged a stunning comeback, however, and finished on 13 under par to lift the third Senior Tour title of his career, coming just two weeks after emerging victorious at the season-opening Mallorca Open Senior.
After a steady four pars to begin with, the 51 year old looked to be out of the race when a bogey on the fifth knocked him back to seven under par for the tournament, with James cruising on 11 under. But three successive birdies at the sixth, seventh and eighth holes lifted Wolstenholme back into contention.
Another gained shot on the 11th hole put him amongst four players at the summit and the six-time Walker Cup player showed true grit to sink a 15 foot putt at the par five 17th hole for birdie which eventually proved the decisive blow.
“It’s just brilliant,” said the Englishman. “Obviously I'm delighted. I had five months off and I had no idea what I was going to come out with this season but to win the two events in Spain and make the cut in America (at the US Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid), having shot a 79 in the first round, is more than I could have possibly predicted.
“I can’t thank the physiotherapist, Paula Deacon, enough. She basically brought me around. I've been in bits and she just kept me going. I didn’t practice at all this week and I thought I might have to pull out of the tournament and she put me back together again.
“The thing today was patience. I nearly made bogey at the first and then had a silly bogey at the fifth but these things can tell on you and fortunately I got on a run and all of a sudden I had momentum.
“The putt at the 17th was massive. I thought I’d have to birdie the last two but I was delighted to see the leaderboard at the 18th and see that I was one shot clear.
“I'm pleased I got things going so early in the season and we have a great run of tournaments now and it’s up to me to continue doing what I know I can do.”Three time Senior Tour winner and 18 time European Tour winner James was a shot further back after a four under par round of 67 despite the fact that three birdies in the opening four holes had handed him a three shot lead early on.
He could not build on it and while his counter-parts were gaining shots around the turn, he bogeyed the sixth and had six consecutive pars before three birdies on the way home, paired with a bogey on the 15th, left him 12 under par for the tournament.
“I played poorly today,” said the 58 year old. “I putted well and holed two long putts on the last three holes so that kept me in it really.“I was swinging better early on and it was a great start but after that I was struggling with distance and I wasn’t driving it very straight so I was grinding out pars and made a couple of saves. I needed a bit of luck.
Mouland was left frustrated after a three under par 68 left the Welshman on 12 under par, relinquishing a lead that he held after each of the opening two days.He opened the door for his fellow title challengers after a bogey at the first hole and didn’t gain a shot until the seventh hole. He did get the purple patch he needed when he birdied the tenth and followed that up with back to back birdies on the 12th and 13th but a bogey on the 16th meant even a birdie at the final hole was not enough and he had to settle for second.
“It’s a bit of disappointment and a bit of encouragement afterwards,” said the 51 year old. “I was hoping to win and played well enough but just a couple of bad decisions at the wrong time cost me. If I keep playing like that though, I’ll be more than happy.“I was tied with Gary by the time I reached the 12th but I three putted the 14th for a par so that was a killer for me, then I hit the wrong club on the 16th and that was that. I'm really happy to have birdied the last. I had a chance and I played nicely so I’ll take second place any day.”
Barry Lane was another player who put himself right into the mix and briefly held a tied lead after he carded a three under par front nine before an eagle on the par five 14th was immediately followed by a birdie. The former Ryder Cup player proceeded to bogey two of the final three holes, however, and a five under par round of 66 left him in tied fourth spot on 11 under par.He was joined by Mike Harwood who, playing in the final group, also reached the turn in three under but three bogeys and three birdies meant the Australian had to settle for a 68 to finish two shots behind Wolstenholme.