By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
at Rockliffe Hall
Denmark’s Steen Tinning needed every ounce of his renowned endurance in securing a second victory in his rookie season at the English Senior Open, overcoming a tenacious Santiago Luna to move top of the Order of Merit with three events of the season remaining.
Tinning, who started the day with a two shot lead over the Spaniard after a blistering 63 on Saturday, came from two shots down with three holes to play as consecutive birdies from the 16th saw the Copenhagen native sign for a five under par 67 on Sunday, good enough for a 17 under par 199 total and a one shot victory over the determined Luna (66) at Rockliffe Hall in County Durham.
The winner’s cheque for €35,868 sees Tinning, who is known for competing in ironman endurance races, move more than €10,000 clear of England’s Paul Wesselingh in the race for the John Jacobs Trophy as the season nears its denouement as he chases not only the Rookie of the Year but the revered title, European Senior Tour Number One.
But it could have all been very different.
As more than 2,000 spectators poured into Rockliffe Hall for the climax of the English Senior Open, returning to the schedule this week after a six year absence, the sun shone as Tinning and Luna put on some red-hot entertainment on Sunday as the lead changed hands countless times.
After trading blows on an intriguing front nine, where Tinning was caught for the first time after Luna eagled the long seventh, the Dane eagled the 12th for the third day running but that still did not prove conclusive.
Luna birdied the 13th to move back alongside Tinning before surging into the lead for the first time as Tinning bogeyed the short 14th.
That lead was extended to two after the Madrid man birdied the 15th, but when Tinning made successive gains from the 16th – as Luna could only bogey the par four 17th – a two-putt par at the last was enough for a memorable victory.
“It was up and down all day,” said Tinning, who becomes the first rookie to win twice on the European Senior Tour since Boonchu Ruangkit in 2010 after also prevailing at August’s Berenberg Masters.
“Santi seemed to make every putt he looked at – he played really well from tee to green all day.
“When I fell two shots behind I felt like it might just slip out of my hands. I had to just play my own game and give myself chances to make birdie and fortunately I got a couple.
“At 17 I was not comfortable with my driver so I nailed a three wood and left myself 195 to the pin. I hit the four iron of the year to six feet to make birdie and that put a bit of pressure on Santi.
“I had a few nerves over the putts on 18 but I kept telling myself I had a putt to win. 30 minutes before that I never felt I was ever going to get a putt to win the tournament so it is a great feeling.”
Tinning will celebrate his 51st birthday on Monday and a move to the top of the Order of Merit was his early present – something he credits in no small part to his mental and physical strength.
“I could not have predicted being top coming into this season,” Tinning continued. “My iron man training and competition has a lot to do with how my mind works on a course. I try to challenge myself all of the game.
“This was proof my mind never lets up. That was just good enough to see me through. It is an awesome feeling.”
Luna, meanwhile, who was also chasing the second victory of his rookie campaign after triumphing at the SSE Scottish Senior Open in August, was philosophical after narrowly missing out in the north east of England.
“It was a great day for me, but there has to be only one winner,” Luna reflected. “Steen played fantastic in the closing holes with a birdie, birdie, par finish.
“I only made on bad shot today, on 17, and I just couldn’t recover that so late but this was a great week and I will be back at Rockliffe Hall for sure next time.”
Another rookie in England’s Paul Eales finished alone in third after a six under par 66 on Sunday left him four shots off the top, while Spain’s Miguel Angel Martin captured his sixth top ten in his last seven starts on the Senior Tour in closing three shots further back on ten under par.