Rooke Kakko sealed his card for The 2014 European Tour season as the Finn claimed his first title as a professional with a nerveless performance and a two-shot win in the inaugural National Bank of Oman Golf Classic.
In searing hot conditions at the majestic Almouj Golf, The Wave in the Omani capital of Muscat, the 31 year old produced a final round worthy of the occasion in the penultimate event of the European Challenge Tour season.
The victory, courtesy of a three under par final round of 69, elevated the Orlando-based player from 17th in the Rankings to sixth, guaranteeing him one of the 15 cards available for The European Tour at the conclusion of next week’s Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club.
While Kakko began with two birdies to extent his one shot overnight lead to three before moving four clear at one point, it was no walk in the park for the man whose only previous victory on the Challenge Tour came as an amateur and on home soil back in 2004.
Dane Lucas Bjerregaard made an almighty push for the title midway through the day when he carded three consecutive birdies from the tenth hole to get within one shot of Kakko.
A bogey for Bjerregaard on the 13th and a birdie for Kakko at the 14th meant the gap was back to three and while the Dane picked up one more shot at the par five 16th to ensure a nervy finish, Kakko pierced the middle of the fairway with his drive down the 18th before finishing with a solid par to clinch the title.
“Today I felt like this was my moment, when I was going to grab hold of it so it feels amazing,” said Kakko, who let out an almighty roar when he holed the final putt. “What an accomplishment. I'm just so proud of how I handled myself on the golf course and how I kept hitting good shots and good putts.
“After I hit that tee shot at 18 I figured that had to be pretty much it. I saw that Bjerregaard made par on the last so the drive was the big one, not the putt. I haven’t won as a professional and that’s why we’re here every week. We want to win these tournaments and I've had a couple of chances.
“I made a silly bogey at ten and then got nervous for a little while because Lucas was making a run, but I stuck to my game plan and I think my experience counted. I'm a little bit older now and wiser and probably a better player. I was expecting it and I was sort of ready for it. It feels great that I managed to hold on.”
“It’s unbelievable to have a European Tour card secured. When you set yourself a goal for top 15 and then accomplish that, it’s such a fulfilling feeling.
“I don’t have words for it. I'm so happy, just delighted. I get to go home now to my wife and kid after Grand Final and not have to go to Qualifying School, so that’s such a big plus too. I think I get to play the World Cup too so that’s going to be a nice Christmas present.”
Kakko admitted it was a little home knowledge which helped him overcome the jangling of the knees on the imposing 18th tee, with the Gulf of Oman hugging the edge of the rough.
“My home club in Orlando, Grand Cyprus, actually has a similar tee shot on the 18th,” he explained. “So I said, ‘you’ve done it a million times, just hit it down the middle’. That was a good mind set, a visualised a good shot.”
Bjerregaard, meanwhile, was disappointed to have missed out having come close, but having needed a huge result this week to secure a place in the season-ending Grand Final, he was delighted to have achieved that goal by moving from 57th in the Rankings to 35th.
“It was a day of mixed emotions alright,” said the 22 year old, whose runn. “I needed a second place or maybe third alone so I went out there and knew what I had to do so I'm feeling very good right now.”
Daniel Im, meanwhile, struggled to keep up with his playing partner Kakko throughout the day and could only manage a level par 72 to finish in third place on ten under par, but that was enough to move him inside the top 15 of the Rankings, from 21st to 13th, heading into the crucial finale.