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Sunday, 18 June 2006

A brilliant birdie at the last hole gave former Ryder Cup player José Rivero a dramatic one-shot victory in the lucrative FIRSTPLUS Wales Seniors Open at The Vale Hotel, Golf & Spa Resort near Cardiff.

Rivero had started the final round six strokes back but as the leaders faltered over the back nine of the Wales National Course, the Spaniard went on a birdie spree for a best-of-the-day 68 and a winning total of four under par 212.

Sam Torrance of Scotland, who closed with a 71, overnight leader David J Russell of England (75), Juan Quiros of Spain (69) and Frenchman Gery Watine (70) shared second place on 213.

A shot further back was Martin Poxon, who closed with a fine round of 69, followed by three fellow Englishmen: Nick Job on 215; Carl Mason on level par 216; and Gordon J Brand on 217.

For Mason, the 2005 Wales Seniors Open champion, there was an added bonus as his €23,331 (£16,000) cheque for eighth place made him only the third golfer to go through the €1m barrier in European Seniors Tour earnings after Tommy Horton and Noel Ratcliffe.

However, at the end of a fascinating final day in South Wales the plaudits belonged to Rivero, whose last-gasp heroics earned him his second victory of the season. 

He looked to have blown his chance when he bogeyed the 17th but the 50 year old, a member of triumphant Ryder Cup Teams in 1985 and 1987, responded by hitting a nine iron to 12ft at the last and holing the putt for a winning birdie three and a career-best cheque of €109,366 (£75,000).

“Over the first nine I did not putt that well but over the back nine my putter started working and I made some lovely birdies. Before starting today I did not think I could win this tournament from six shots back. I thought if I played very good and got to four under I would at best finish second

“This is a great tournament to win with a big first prize, so I am delighted, and now I am right back in the hunt for the Order of Merit,” said Rivero, a four-time European Tour winner who claimed his maiden Seniors title at the DGM Barbados Open in March.

That triumph in the Caribbean came at the expense of Russell in a play-off and few would have not spared the Englishman a thought or two after going so close to his maiden title yet again. It was the eighth time he had finished runner-up since turning 50.

Russell had gone into the final day four strokes clear of Torrance, who was bidding to win his third title in four starts, and for much of the early exchanges it looked as though he would not need to use any of his lead.

Over the opening two days Russell had negotiated the treacherous Wales National Course better than anyone, carding consecutive rounds of three under par 69. He started strongly once again and a second birdie of the day at the sixth saw him extend his lead to five strokes.

It was then that his troubles started. A bogey followed at the seventh and then he compounded his mistake with a double-bogey five at the short eighth hole.

A birdie at ten provided some respite but further bogeys were to follow at the 11th, 12th and 13th holes.

Russell, Torrance and Watine all reached the last hole on three under par and in need of a birdie to force a play-off with Rivero. Watine was the only one of the three to find the fairway – Torrance hooked his drive on to the 17th fairway and Russell sliced his right – but neither of them could force a three and Rivero was crowned champion.

Quiros had earlier finished on three under after a round of 69 – the first bogey-free round of the whole three days, a feat later matched by Watine’s error-free 70.

Afterwards, Russell gave a characteristically honest appraisal and preferred to look forward: “In the end I was fortunate to finish runner-up after the way I started to play in the middle of my round. This is a course where once you start hitting bad shots you see trouble everywhere.

“I feel like I am playing well enough to win and in two weeks we head to the London Golf Club, which is a golf course that really suits me.”

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