Holland’s Joost Luiten breathed a massive sigh of relief after overcoming a poor start and nervous finish to claim his fourth European Tour title in the ISPS Handa Wales Open.
Luiten, who was fifth in the defence of his KLM Open title on home soil last week, saw his two-shot overnight lead disappear when he bogeyed the first two holes of the final round at Celtic Manor.
But the 28-year-old hit back with three birdies and one bogey on the back nine to card a closing 71 and finish 14 under par, one shot ahead of England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Ireland’s Shane Lowry.
Fleetwood had looked out of contention following a double bogey on the 13th, but then chipped in for a birdie on the 14th, holed from five feet for eagle on the next and also birdied the last three holes for a closing 67.
That left Luiten needing to par the last three holes to win and he looked to have done the hard part with a superb up and down from a greenside bunker on the 17th, only to hit an amazingly wild drive on the last.
It took several minutes for the ball to be found in dense rough but Luiten was able to hack it across the fairway and into more rough, from where he found the green with his approach and two-putted from long range.
“It was tough, it was hard work down the last,” Luiten admitted. “I didn’t have the start I wanted with two bogeys and I just tried to hang in there and wait for my chances and made some nice birdies at the end and a par down the last was luckily enough.”
Luiten was considered as a wild card for the Ryder Cup by European captain Paul McGinley and admitted his superb recent form had come just too late to make the team for Gleneagles.
“I knew when the qualification ended and I needed to play better,” said Luiten, who was fourth in the final qualifying event and fifth last week.
“Luckily I am in good form now and I wish the team all the best and, hopefully, they can win.”
Fleetwood has also come into form late in the season, finishing fifth in both the Czech Masters and European Masters recently.
The 23-year-old, who won his maiden European Tour title at Gleneagles last year, said: “After the double bogey on 13 I definitely wasn’t thinking about getting to 13-under, just try your best on the last few and see what you can get. I wanted to get back to level par or under par for the day. I thought that would have been a good effort.
“After a poor summer, I wanted to finish the season well. I’ve been playing well recently and the more you get up there, the better. This is how you learn. You can’t practice this on the range when you’re coming down the stretch in the top five and just the more you do it, the better it is.”
Lowry was never able to get on level terms with the leaders, carding two bogeys and one birdie in his first five holes, but birdied the last for a round of 70 and to jump out of a large group of players on 12 under.
Five players shared fourth place, Ryder Cup debutant Jamie Donaldson carding a 67 to finish alongside Nicolas Colsaerts, Eddie Pepperell, Marc Warren and Edoardo Molinari.
“I’m very pleased,” said Donaldson. “Celtic Manor is a tough golf course which doesn’t quite suit my eye. It’s been hard for me this week to keep focused and try and see the shots. If you take your foot off the pedal there’s a lot of trouble about.
“I’m happy the way I played over the last four or five weeks, building up to the Ryder Cup. I couldn’t have asked for any more, really.”
Team-mates Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood carded closing rounds of 74 and 76 respectively, Westwood having to birdie the 16th and 18th to avoid an even worse score.
“I needed to play some competitive golf and I’ve done that,” said the 41-year-old ahead of his ninth Ryder Cup. “I hit a few good shots (this week), not so good today, but I probably had one eye on next week. I don’t think the concentration and the focus was there.
“The Ryder Cup is very special, I am looking forward to getting there and preparing for Friday when it starts.”
Sheffield’s Danny Willett – the only surviving player from Yorkshire after John Parry and Richard Finch missed the cut on Friday night – enjoyed a fine day on Saturday, carding 67 to leave him just six shots off the lead.
But a round of 73 yesterday – his worst over the four days – saw him finish nine shots back from the triumphant Luiten.
England’s Charley Hull shot a final-day 70 to finish four strokes behind the victorious Connie Chen at the Tenerife Open de Espana Femenino.
The 18-year-old, from Kettering, mixed six birdies with two bogeys and double bogey at Golf Costa Adeje but at eight under par for the tournament, she trailed South Africa’s Chen, Carlota Ciganda and Beth Allen on the final leaderboard.
Londoner Hannah Burke got round in 68 on the last day to enter a five-way share of fifth place alongside the likes of Scotland’s Pamela Pretswell.