Norwegian Espen Kofstad won the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final and with it was crowned Challenge Tour Number One with a superb performance in the season finale.
The 25 year old finished with a four under par 67 for a one shot victory over Dane Joachim B Hansen, who led for most of the day, and England’s James Busby, who was the 45th and final player to qualify for the event but signed off with a 66 to rise to 16th in the Rankings and earn a European Tour card for next season.
It was an emotional day in the south of Italy, where the players who finished in the top 21 of the Rankings were celebrating their promotion to The European Tour, and others were left to rue what might have been.
Kofstad was assured of a European Tour card for 2013 having gone into the week 11th in the Rankings, but he signed off a superb season in swashbuckling style, claiming his second victory of the year with rounds of 65, 66, 67 and 67 for a 19 under par total. The €56,650 first prize propelled him to the top of the Rankings with €131,099.
Coincidentally, his first win also came in Puglia, in the Doubletree by Hilton Acaya Open, about an hour’s drive from this week’s venue, San Domenico Golf. Hansen was his final-round challenger there too, his bogey at the last handing Kofstad a one stroke victory.
“I might have to move here,” joked Kofstad, who is the first Norwegian winner of the Challenge Tour Rankings. “I don’t know what it is about this place. I love the food and the climate is really nice. I seem to cope very well with the greens here. I find them very easy to read and I holed some great putts this week.
“It’s amazing. Those last two rounds are probably the best I’ve ever played. I didn’t make a bogey in 36 holes. I felt like I was in complete control of everything, despite the pressure I was under.
“I didn’t know about the Rankings until I finished, but I’ve tried not to think about it over the last few days. I knew what would happen was up to me, not anyone else.
“At the start of the season my coach and I decided the target would be three wins and a place in the top ten. I’ve only won twice, but I’ll take it.”
The turning point was the 13th hole, where Kofstad made birdie and Hansen, who had started the day with a two shot lead, slipped to a double-bogey. Hansen pulled level with a birdie at the 15th, but Kofstad’s eight foot putt for birdie at the 17th proved decisive.
“It’s unlucky for Joachim,” he said. “He played really nicely today and has done all week. He just caught a flier on the 13th and was unlucky not to hole the birdie putt on the last. I’m sure he will win one soon.”
Hansen’s one under par 70 fell short of earlier rounds of 67, 62 and 67, but his consolation prize was fourth spot in the Rankings - a fine achievement for the Challenge Tour rookie.
“I played alright today and didn’t make too many mistakes,” said the 22 year old. "The double-bogey at the 13th was choosing the wrong club, that’s all, and it cost me.
“I am really disappointed. There are so many things that could have been possible if I had won. It will take a while before I start thinking about next year and everything else. I just want this day to be over.”
There was joy for Justin Walters, who moved to 15th spot from 23rd by finishing tied fifth alongside Seve Benson, who moved from 28th to 20th. Eddie Pepperell and Max Kieffer were also celebrating improving their ranking for next season, but for every happy tale there is one of woe as Raymond Russell, HP Bacher and Daniel Vancsik slipped out of the qualifying spots they had occupied at the start of the week.
The main mover was Busby, though, who said: “What a great day. It was a bogey-free round as well which is very pleasing.
"Up until today I was thinking about preparing for the Qualifying School, so I can’t really put into words how delighted I am right now.”