Marc Warren ended a six-year wait for his fourth European Tour title, winning the Austrian Open as the European Tour and European Challenge Tour seasons restarted after a four-month break due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The Scot, who last tasted victory at the 2014 Made In Denmark, started the final day at Diamond Country Club in a share of the lead with Germany's Nicolai von Dellingshausen, but it was an enthralling battle with Spanish youngster Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez which he had to overcome to win again on the European Tour.
“2014 was the last time I’ve won,” said Warren. “What’s happened on the golf course in the years since then, I’ve played very poorly. The break has been unfortunate for everyone but it came at a good time for me, spending some time at home and trying to get my game ready to play golf.
“It was nice to have such a long break with the family. The last few weeks I’ve been able to get some good work done and get ready to play golf. Came out of it pretty refreshed. Carrying my bag this week probably helped tone it down a little, just going out and playing and seeing what happens. The result couldn’t have been any better.
“It’s been different (playing without a caddie), the first time since 2005 – so 15 years. Hopefully this is the one and only time, no matter what I say, I do enjoy the caddie’s company. Especially on days like yesterday.
“Last night I had a few nice texts from some of the caddies who are good friends, I didn’t say it, but I was thinking I could have done with one of them yesterday, it was brutal. At times like that you appreciate what a great job they do. I’m looking forward to getting a caddie on the bag again.
Diamond Country Club, a European Tour Destination, was hosting the first tournament since the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters after months of lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis. As a dual ranking event, the results count to both the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, and the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca.
Garcia Rodriguez eagled the first to move to within one shot, and the pair shared the lead coming down the home straight until Warren made his sixth birdie of the day on the 17th.
After Garcia Rodriguez, who trailed by one after the 17th, hit his tee shot into the water, Warren needed just a par to secure his first title since 2014, which he duly converted from five feet.
“In my head the tournament doesn’t start until the back nine,” added Warren. “A lot can happen on the front nine here, there’s a lot of water about. It was tough, the wind was swirling. Sebastian got off to a great start, made three at the first. He started ten under, but I thought he started 11. I had him one shot better than he was. When we got to the last five or six, seeing how tight it was, I was just trying to commit as much as possible to the shots.
“Around the turn I hit a couple of great shots on nine and ten, made two birdies. Hit a really good iron shot on 11, but the wind didn’t move it and I made bogey. I felt like that set me back a little bit, but I holed a good birdie putt on 15 and then a good putt on 17 that was really steep downhill from about 15 feet. I was trying to make sure I didn’t run it past, I tried to get the pace right and fortunately it went right in the middle.
“Going from a few hours ago I didn’t have full status, now to be in a winner’s category and plan the year a little bit is good. I just need to keep doing what I’m doing, trying to hit one shape all the time and when I do play try and do that and try not to mess about too much.”
Germany’s Marcel Schneider made a run for the title with a three under par round of 69, holding the clubhouse lead on 12 under par while Warren stood on the 18th tee.
“I was practising hard during the ‘off-season’, so it’s nice that it has showed up so quickly," said Schneider. “There were a few bad shots here and there, but in general I’m really happy. It helps to get the confidence going. I’m looking forward to next week. I like the course.”
Wil Besseling carded the joint-low round of the day, a six under par 66, to take solo third. While Garcia Rodriguez was joined by Scottish pair Craig Howie and Connor Syme, alongside Holland’s Darius van Driel on ten under par.
“Coming back from four months off, it is really nice to play for a win and I am very pleased where my game is at,” said 34-year-old Besseling. “Yesterday was really tough with the rain and today I played good. Hit a few good shots on the front nine to give myself a lot of opportunities, which I made to get me in contention, and I managed to stay bogey-free which is very pleasing, especially on a Sunday playing for the win."
The season continues in Austria next week with the dual-ranked Euram Bank Open at GC Adamstal, followed by the Betfred British Masters at Close House, the first of the new six-event UK Swing.