Gary Marks prevailed in windy conditions at the European Senior Tour Qualifying School Final Stage to win by one shot at Pestana Golf Resort’s Vale da Pinta, where a play-off was required to decide the fifth and final player to win a Senior Tour card for the 2016 season.
The Englishman’s two over par round of 73 was enough for him to finish on two under par, one shot ahead of America’s Barry Conser, whose one under par round of 70 was the best of the day as strong winds made for difficult scoring in the Algarve.
Irishman Brendan McGovern – who dedicated his performance to the late Christy O’Connor Jnr – and Sweden’s Magnus P Atlevi also earned their cards, finishing on level par, but Ken Tarling had to beat Brad Smith in a play-off to seal the final spot.
The Canadian, winner of last year’s Senior Tour Q-School, had shot a four over par round of 75 but his English opponent Smith took four putts on the first additional hole, allowing Tarling to clinch fifth place with a bogey.
Marks was tied for second place in Portugal 12 months ago and the 52 year old was delighted to have regained his status as a Senior Tour Member.
“I’m surprisingly calm because that felt like a real ordeal,” he said. “I suppose I’m on a little bit of a rebound high. I thought I would be completely exhausted, and that’s probably going to come later, but right now there’s just joy at having achieved that.
“I was nervous today, you always are, because there’s nothing you can do. There isn’t a trick to it, you’ve just got to get over the ball, put a good swing on it, walk after it and hole putts if you get a birdie chance.
“It’s very nice to win. As I said, all five of us, if you’d told us last night we’d be the top five, no-one would have cared where they had come or about the prize money. You’re opening up a very exciting year whether you’re fifth or first. It’s nice to win though, and you don’t get that many meaningful wins – this is one of them.
“It was definitely a benefit to have experienced this before. I’ve been in the thick of it all three times I’ve come here to Q-School and it absolutely helps.
“I tried to keep an eye on things throughout. Initially there’s not too much revealing itself but I had a couple of bogeys and started looking at the board a bit more. You don’t want to get too caught up in that though.
“It wasn’t until the last three or four holes that I started to figure out I could afford four bogeys and still qualify, so I was just trying to avoid doing anything stupid and just make it home – and that’s what I managed to do.”
Conser, another to regain his Senior Tour card, was one of only two players to break par on a difficult final day, while McGovern was overjoyed at making his breakthrough onto the Senior Tour.
“It feels pretty awesome,” said the 50 year old. “A lot of preparation went into this and to get over the line feels really good.
“To be honest with you I had one thought in my head all round and that was Christy O’Connor Jnr. I couldn’t make his funeral but I had a chat with him last September at a Pro-Am at Galway Bay and told him what I was doing.
“One man who would always give you a bit of a boost was Christy Jnr and he was in the back of my head – the drive for me today was ‘this is for Christy Jnr’ and I never lost focus. He was one of the great figures of Irish golf and this was for him.”
For Atlevi there was redemption for last year when the Swede made a double bogey on the final hole to miss his card by one shot, but the 50 year old’s final round of 76 was good enough to take the fourth card.