Ryder Cup Wales Senior Open - Round Three (Getty Images)
South African Bertus Smit held off the challenge of home favourite Ian Woosnam to win a fairytale maiden title in the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open at Royal Porthcawl and become the first Qualifying School graduate to win on the European Senior Tour in four years.
Smit, whose previous best finish was tied second over the links of La Moye in the Jersey Seniors Classic last year, holed a 25ft birdie putt on the last hole for a final round 69 to finish on five under par 211 capture his first title in his 49th Senior Tour appearance.
It was a sentimental victory for the 56 year old former wheat farmer who suffered a stroke in 2006 which left him partially blind with only 45 per cent vision in his right eye.
“This is very emotional, unbelievable,” he said. “It’s unbelievable from what I went through having a stroke and then coming back from nowhere with a first round 74 to win the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open.
“After the stroke I lost my confidence over the past two years. The last week I felt the swing was there and it kicked in. My putting was good. My irons were superb this week – I didn’t miss many greens.”
Smith carded six birdies to finish four strokes clear of Australian David Merriman, who recorded his own best Senior Tour finish, while Woosnam’s two over par 74 meant he had to settle for a share of third place with Ross Drummond, Bobby Lincoln and Des Smyth, a shot further back on level par.
Joint over night leader Woosnam missed out on a home victory for the second consecutive year, 12 months after finishing runner up to Peter Mitchell at Conwy (Caernarvonshire) Golf Club.
The former World Number One never fully recovered after starting with three straight bogeys and while he steadied the ship with birdies on the fifth, eighth and tenth holes his fight-back faltered with a hat-trick of dropped shots from the 14th to put pay to his challenge.
That left Smit celebrating for the second time over the weekend following the Springboks defeat of the British Lions in the first rugby test on Saturday.
The Cape Town born player’s €88,234 (£75,000) first prize was comfortably the biggest pay cheque of his nine year professional career, dwarfing his previous best of €17,087 (£11,683)for finishing third in the 2006 Wentworth Senior Masters.
A two year exemption means he will avoid going back to Qualifying School, where he won his card in November finishing second behind Northern Ireland’s Jimmy Heggarty. Smit became the first Qualifying School graduate to win on the Senior Tour since Bob Boyd’s victory in the 2005 Castéllon Costa-Azahar Open de España Senior.
“The year exemption is unbelievable for me – it means no more struggling at Qualifying School” he said. “I can just enjoy it from now on. It is one of the best moments of my life.”
Woosnam, who won the Irish Seniors Open in association with Fáilte Ireland and AIB Bank a fortnight ago, said his poor start cost him the title, although one consolation for the former Ryder Cup Captain is that he replaces Mark James as the Senior Tour Order of Merit leader, with Smit leaping 64 places to second.
“I had three putts on the first hole and struggled all the way for the first three holes dropping three and then had another run where I dropped three and it cost me,” said the Welshman. “I didn’t play that well. It was disappointing in the end. After second last year I hope I’m not going to fourth next year – I hope it goes the other way!”