South Africa’s Justin Walters narrowly failed to win on the European Tour for the first time when he went down on the second play-off hole to 19-year-old Dane Rasmus Hojgaard in the ISPA HANDA UK Championship at The Belfry on Sunday.
Walters had started the final round two shots clear after opening rounds of 64, 71 and 69, but was reeled in to surrender his lead before a surge of three birdies on Nos 14, 16 and 17, followed by a par on No18 forced the two-man play-off.
They went up to the 18th tee – Walters had made par on the hole in all four regulations rounds – and both players made par fours at the first attempt. The 39-year-old South African extended the match with a clutch putt to show his character on the big stage.
On the second attempt at the 18th in the play-off, Walters saw his drive find the bunker and then an errant approach from the sand left him with a treacherous chip to find the putting surface and the ball raced past the hole. The putt for par missed and Hojgaard was left with a short putt to close out the deal. It was Hojgaard’s second win on the Tour in 15 career starts after he claimed victory in Mauritius, also in a playoff, last December.
At the other end of the scale is Walters, regularly considered one of the gentlemen of the Tour, and who has had 227 starts without yet being able to win on the European Tour. Despite this week’s heroics at The Belfry that’s a stat that will be extended, although he has never come this close. For long periods of the week the 39-year-old had looked in control, leading after 18, 36 and 54 holes, but a closing 70 fell one stroke short of winning outright, as Hojgaard closed with a 65 to also land on 14-under 274.
The pair finished one shot ahead of Benjamin Hebert and two-time Major champion Martin Kaymer in 13-under 275.
Walters started the day two shots in front – at one stage on Saturday he had stretched out five clear – but had a rollercoaster final round. A nervy start required a testing putt for par on the first, followed by a dropped shot on No2. He then strung together three birdies in a row to assume control before a triple bogey seven at the 8th hole followed.
That damaging seven had been the result of a tee shot that went out of bounds before a three-putt. No player has suffered a triple bogey and won on the European Tour this season. However, a birdie at No10 helped get him back in the mix, before a bogey at No13 dropped him back into the pack. But three birdies in the next four holes followed by a finger-binger biting par four at the last saw him sign for a 70 and into the play-off with the teenage Dane in 14-under-par 274.
Bryce Easton closed with a 73 for a five-under total of 283 and a tie for 19th, while Dean Burmester had a final round 70 for 286 and a tie for 31st. In tie 47th was Garrick Higgo after a closing 73 for 289 and tie 51st was Wilco Nienaber after a 73 for 290.
The other South Africans in the field this past week – JC Ritchie, Haydn Porteous, Jbe Kruger, Jacques Kruyswijk and Louis de Jager – missed the cut, while Zander Lombard withdrew after a third round 81.
274 Rasmus Hojgaard (Den) 73 69 67 65
Justin Walters (SA) 64 71 69 70
*Hojgaard won on the second playoff hole
275 Benjamin Hebert (Bel) 67 69 70 69
Martin Kaymer (Ger) 68 72 66 69
276 Bernd Wiesberger (Austria) 67 71 73 65
Craig Howie (Scot) 68 72 71 65
277 Marcus Armitage (Eng) 70 68 71 68
Jorge Campillo (Spain) 69 73 67 68
278 Callum Hill (Scot) 68 72 72 66
Andy Sullivan (Eng) 70 72 69 67
283 Bryce Easton (SA) 72 68 70 73
286 Dean Burmester (SA) 70 70 76 70
289 Garrick Higgo (SA) 70 71 75 73
290 Wilco Nienaber (SA) 69 72 76 73