Thailand’s Boonchu Ruangkit sealed an historic hat-trick of victories on the European Senior Tour after shooting a superb final round 69 to win the Berenberg Bank Masters by three strokes in South Africa.
Ruangkit held off former Ryder Cup Captain Sam Torrance and South African Bobby Lincoln to capture the €75,000 first prize and become the first player since Tommy Horton in 1997 to win three consecutive Senior Tour events, following his back-to-back victories in Brunei and his native Thailand.
He also became the quickest player to win three times on the Senior Tour – doing so on his seventh appearance – to break Welshman Brian Huggett’s record of achieving three victories in his first eight events, which has stood for 17 years.
“I’m very happy to win three times in a row,” he said. “I’d never thought about winning doing it before but I’m very proud.
“It was my first time in South Africa and I’d met Gary Player before but it was great to play with him in the first round.
“I had not thought about winning the Order of Merit before but I will go to England to play the next event and if it is not too cold I will try to make it four wins.”
The 53 year old, known as ‘The Godfather of Asian Golf’, had started the day four strokes behind joint leaders Angel Franco and Torrance at The Links at Fancourt but a run of four birdies in five holes on the back nine saw Ruangkit move clear.
Torrance suffered a difficult start to the day with a double bogey on the third hole followed by consecutive dropped shots on the fourth and fifth to surrender the lead.
The Scot battled back in typical fashion with three birdies but a double bogey six on the 15th left him with too much to do and, despite a birdie on the last, the 2009 Order of Merit winner signed for a two over par 75 to finish on level par 219.
Lincoln posted four birdies in his last six holes to card a superb 70 and surge up the leaderboard but Ruangkit came home with three consecutive pars to finish the tournament as the only player under par, with a total of three under par 216.
The Thai player had led after the first round following a 69 but struggled to a 78 in tough windy conditions during the second round over the Gary Player-designed course.
However with the gusts not a factor on the final day, Ruangkit played some scintillating golf, particularly on the back nine, to pull clear of the field.
“I played much better today,” he said. “On the front nine I thought a top three finish would be okay but I had three birdies in a row.
“This week was much more difficult than in Brunei and Thailand. I’m not familiar with this golf course and the wind and slopes on the green made it very hard but I’m proud that I was the only player under par here.”
Although he won the US Champions Tour Qualifying School in 2006, Ruangkit was a relative unknown on the Senior Tour until his stunning victory in the Aberdeen Brunei Senior Masters presented by The Stapleford Forum.
He went on to tear up the record books the following week in the Chang Thailand Senior Masters presented by ISPS, where his 11 stroke win two weeks ago was a record victory margin on the Senior Tour and his 21 under par 195 winning score the lowest 54 hole total on the Senior Tour.
His latest record breaking performance attracted high praise from Torrance, who sees Ruangkit as a real threat to his defence of the Order of Merit crown.
“He’s some player – he’s fantastic,” said Torrance. “We’ve got a new rival on the scene and I’ve got my work cut out this year if he plays anymore.
“I had such a horrific start today. I dropped four shots in three holes but I dug in and made birdies on the 13th and 14th but Boonchu went crazy on the back nine.
“It was another great week for me though. It’s always disappointing not to win but I’m delighted with how I played.”
Lincoln’s late rally meant he finished as the leading South African on the Senior Tour’s maiden visit to the country and moved him up to third in the Order of Merit, with Torrance now in second and Ruangkit extending his lead at the top having amassed €118,815.
Franco and England’s Roger Chapman finished in a tie for fourth place on two over par after rounds of 77 and 75 respectively, while former World Number One and Ryder Cup Captain Ian Woosnam posted a closing 74 for a share of 11th.