A relieved David J Russell, who has finished runner up nine times on the European Senior Tour, survived an almighty scare around the turn to finally land his maiden title in The De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship.
Russell, who started the final round with a four stroke lead, looked to be cruising to victory after three birdies and just the single bogey in his opening seven holes to open up a six shot cushion but his advantage suddenly evaporated in the space of three incredible holes.
The Englishman 'hit an iceberg' on the Hunting Course at De Vere Slaley Hall when he triple bogeyed the eighth hole, followed by a double bogey on ninth when he was forced to take a penalty shot after his wayward approach landing in greenkeeper’s cuttings.
His title challenge then appeared in treacherous waters when he bogeyed the tenth hole to drop six shots in three holes and fall one stroke behind Angel Franco.
Remarkably though, Russell’s challenge did not sink and he steadied the ship with back-to-back birdies on the 11th and 12th to move back into the lead when Franco dropped a shot on the 13th hole.
The 56 year old bogeyed the 15th and then received a huge slice of luck when he rattled the pin on the last but he managed to hold on to sign for a final round 75 and finish on five under par 283, two strokes clear of Paraguay’s Franco, Senior Tour debutant Barry Lane and South African Chris Williams.
“That was the most traumatic day I’ve ever had on a golf course,” admitted Russell. “It was incredible. You go out, when you are leading a tournament, to do the best you can and I got off to a lovely start and holed some good putts early on to get to ten under par.
“All I needed to do then was be sensible so, of course, I lost my ball on the eighth and made a triple bogey and had a terrible second shot on the ninth and ended up in cuttings for a double bogey and suddenly I’d handed the tournament to somebody else.
“It was incredible really. You try to keep going and be positive and luckily I managed to just about stumble over the line.”
Russell’s nine second place finishes – including behind Sam Torrance in The 2005 De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship – is a Senior Tour record and, after three years in the relative wilderness since the last of those runner up places, he conceded that he was relieved to finally get the monkey off his back.
“I must admit I was looking at the leaderboard to see what second place would be and at one stage I would have taken it I think, when I dropped those six shots,” said Russell. “It was amazing and surreal to go through an experience like that and still come out on top at the end. It shows how well I must have played, most of the time.”
Russell, who won two times on The European Tour and was a Vice Captain under Ian Woosnam in The 2006 Ryder Cup, said the victory – achieved on his 113th Senior Tour appearance – was possibly the highlight of his professional career.
“Winning on the regular Tour is obviously a massive thing, and my first win was huge in terms of my career, but the Senior Tour is a wonderful opportunity for us to stay competitive and this is right up there as it’s a wonderful tournament,” he said. “It’s the oldest Senior event and it’s great to have my name on the trophy with so many fantastic players.”
Franco and Williams, who posted rounds of 71 and 69 respectively, has to settle for a share of second place for the second consecutive year after the pair also shared the runner up spot to Carl Mason 12 months ago.
They were joined by Englishman Lane, the five-time European Tour winner who turned 50 on Monday was making his European Senior Tour debut. Lane also finished on three under par after posting a final round 69 that included a superb eagle on the 15th hole.
He said: “I played really nicely all week and made some silly mistakes in the first couple of rounds and I did that today, starting with a double bogey and then you’re out the tournament. I just carried on though, trying to hit some nice shots and I made a couple of birdies then drove it to a foot on the par four 15th for eagle.
“All in all then it’s been a great week. I’ve really enjoyed coming to play on the Senior Tour and seeing all the guys again.”
Former Ryder Cup player Gordon Brand Jnr, who fired a final round 71, was the only other player under par in fifth place two strokes further adrift. Former Masters champions Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam finished in a share of 12th place on four over par.
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