Cabrera Bello seals overdue triumph in Scottish play-off

Rafa Cabrera Bello.
Rafa Cabrera Bello.
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Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello claimed his first victory since 2012 by beating England’s Callum Shinkwin in a play-off for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

Shinkwin had looked set for his maiden European Tour title and the first prize of £898,000, only to fluff his chip to the 18th in regulation and then leave a putt to win the £5.4m event short from just four feet.

The pair returned to the 18th for sudden death and Cabrera Bello, whose closing 64 had set a new course record at Dundonald Links, produced a stunning approach to the par five to set up a two-putt birdie.

Shinkwin’s approach had finished in an almost identical place as it had on the 72nd hole and after pitching over a bunker to seven feet, the 24-year-old again hit a tentative putt which came up short.

Cabrera Bello had started the day four shots off the lead and despite going to the turn in 32, was unable to gain much ground as Shinkwin followed six straight pars with a hat-trick of birdies from the seventh.

Further birdies on the 13th and 15th kept Shinkwin out in front, but Cabrera Bello kept up the pressure by picking up shots on the 12th, 14th and 17th before enjoying a slice of luck on the last as his approach hit the right-hand side of the burn which guards the green and bounced over to the other side.

From there the 33-year-old chipped to three feet for a closing birdie and that proved enough for a play-off after Shinkwin dropped his only shot of the day on the last.

The former English Amateur champion, whose caddie Andy Sutton worked for Ben Curtis when the American was a shock winner of the 2003 Open, at least had the consolation of a place at Royal Birkdale and a cheque for £598,000.

France’s Matthieu Pavon also secured a major debut at Birkdale with a closing 66 to finish third on 10-under, with Australia’s Andrew Dodt claiming the last place ahead of England’s Anthony Wall by virtue of his higher world ranking.

Dodt, who had been scheduled to fly to New York on Monday for a holiday with his wife, finished on eight under par alongside Wall, Padraig Harrington, Matt Kuchar and Ryan Fox. Ian Poulter, who began the day in a tie for the lead in pursuit of his first win since 2012, could only manage a closing 74 to finish in a tie for ninth.

A downbeat Henrik Stenson all-but dismissed his chances of retaining his Open title, despite a closing 68.

“We certainly need to step that up quite a lot if we want to have anything to do with it next week,” said Stenson.

“Maybe we can turn things around a little bit but I’m looking forward to the week regardless.”

Sheffield’s Danny Willett, meanwhile, admits he may need painkillers to get him through The Open.

The 2016 Masters champion has pulled out of three of his last five events due to a back injury, including last month’s US Open and the Irish Open just over a week ago.

The 29-year-old is now trying to ease himself back into action and played a practice round at the Southport links yesterday.

“We’ve had a full week off resting with the back, so we’ll see,” said Willett. “We’ve just played 18 and it didn’t feel too bad. I’ll play nine in the next couple of days and hopefully it’ll be all right.

“We were always going to come and see how it was instead of pulling out early. It’s the Open Championship. You need to come here, even if you have to get a few drugs inside you to get through the week. That’s how it’s going to go.

“You never know (if it will be okay) until you go off on Thursday, but at the moment it feels all right.”

Willett is not on heavy medication, but has been taking tablets for pain and inflammation.

It has been a frustrating situation and Willett feels he has been trapped in a circle where injury has led to poor form and that in turn has exacerbated his fitness issues.

He said: “I’ve had better spells. It’s been one thing after an another. I’ve had a little bit of injury then not swinging it great. Then, if you’re not swinging it great, it doesn’t help the body.

“I’m trying to click the reset button and get back to a few things that I know work.”