American Dick Mast carded a four under par round of 67 for the third time in four days to head the 18 players who gained cards for the 2012 European Senior Tour season on a tense final day of the Qualifying School in Portugal.
The 59 year old had started the day with a three stroke lead over Englishman Paul Wesselingh and extended that margin to seven shots with a clinical display at Pestana Golf Resort’s Vale da Pinta, finishing on 14 under par 270.
Wesselingh also secured a card in comfortable fashion, closing with a round of 71 to take second place on seven under par, while American Zeke P Martinez, who began his final round with two birdies and a double bogey, eagled the 16th en route to a 69 as he finished on four under par in third place. English pair Steve Cipa (73) and Jeff Hall (70) and Canadian Rick Gibson (71) shared fourth position on two under par.
All six earned full cards for the 2012 Senior Tour season, with 12 further players securing conditional cards including 2009 Scottish Senior Open champion Glenn Ralph, who carded a closing 73 to share seventh place with Australian Tim Elliott on one under par.
But the day belonged to Mast who succeeds compatriot Tim Thelen as winner of the Senior Tour Qualifying School.
Mast birdied the second and fourth holes but bogeys on the fifth and seventh holes meant his advantage over Wesselingh was reduced to two shots. However the momentum then swung back in Mast’s favour when he holed a crucial 25ft birdie putt on the eighth hole followed by an eight footer on the tenth.
Further birdies on the 16th and 17th holes sealed the victory for Mast, who finished third in The 2006 Senior Open Championship at Turnberry.
“It is a big privilege to get onto the European Senior Tour,” said Mast. “I’ve not been exempt on the US Champions Tour since 2007 and I’ve always wanted to come over here and play more than I have. I came over in 2006 for The Senior Open for the first time and had a great time at Turnberry and I’m looking forward to coming back and getting to know people over here.
“Hopefully I can play some good golf too. It was my goal to win the Qualifying School but it was a difficult challenge. I tend to be a gambler but I played more percentages over the last couple of days. It worked out for me this week as you can’t force this golf course.
“Paul played extremely well as well so there was some pressure. It’s tough leading for three rounds so I was pleased with how I managed it.”
Mast had led the qualifiers from First Stage at Pestana’s Gramacho course last week and he has now set his sights on continuing that form into the new season.
“I’d like to win a tournament and get some momentum going into The Senior Open Championship back at Turnberry. I’d also like to try to qualify for The Open itself so hopefully this win can be a momentum builder. I’m really looking forward to coming over and seeing Europe.”
Wesselingh, who has represented Great Britain and Ireland six times in the PGA Cup, took over from current Senior Tour Committee Chairman David J Russell as head professional at Kedleston Park, near Derby, in 2001 and will now follow in footsteps again on the Senior Tour.
"It’s unbelievable – it is what I have been working towards for the last two or three years now,” said the 50 year old. “I played solid today and decided early on not to take too many risks and just plodded my way round, which is my strength really.
“I knew everyone would start well, as the first two holes are birdie chances, then fall away again and that’s what happened. I started looking at catching Dick but my putter has been so cold this week – I’ve not holed anything over ten feet and Dick is an awesome putter.”
The 18 players to gain cards for 2012 came from eight different nations. Aside from the aforementioned top eight, the other players to secure playing privileges were Scotland’s Terry Burgoyne, who finished ninth on level par; Frenchman Roger Sabarros, Canadian Dave Wettlauffer, Japan’s Archie Takamatsu and American Charlie Bolling who all finished one over par; Japan’s Seiki Okuda, American Mike Donald, Jamaican pair Peter Horrobin and Delroy Cambridge and Canadian Ken Tarling, who all finished two over par.