Marathon Man Soderberg Holds His Nerve to Win Five-Man Playoff
WOW! They don’t make them like that any more. You can be certain that Sebastian Soderberg will not forget his first European Tour victory in a hurry. The Swede won the Omega European Masters at the magnificent Crans-sur-Sierre after coming through a nerve-wracking five-man playoff that included world number two and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, fresh from winning the FedEx Cup.
It was a remarkable performance by the Swede, who began the day four shots off the lead and was still trailing by that margin as he entered the back nine. But he then shot five birdies on the spin and suddenly found himself leading the tournament.
Soderberg three-putted the penultimate green, which saw him fall back to 14 under par and into a tie with playing partners McIlroy and Lorenzo Gagli, as well as Andres Romero and Kalle Samooja. The 28-year-old holed a ten footer for birdie on the first trip back up the last and, with McIlroy and Samooja missing from closer range, the trophy was his.
It was a thrilling finish to an astonishing day which ended with the tournament seeing a record-equalling 13th playoff. Victory for Soderberg came in his 50th European Tour event after he came through the Qualifying School in 2016 and the European Challenge Tour last season. He won twice on the Challenge Tour but was in 120th place in the Race to Dubai at the start of the week after a top-five finish at last week's Scandinavian Invitation. It means he secures his playing privileges for two full seasons.
Unsurprisingly, he was thrilled. "It's unbelievable," he said. "I've dreamt of playing on the European Tour, even better doing it this way. I was in the lead, lost it, went into the playoff with Rory McIlroy among it. I was more nervous in the beginning than I was towards the back nine. Got on a good run and the ball kept going in. Just playing with Rory, so many people around, playing with a guy like that adds heat to it right away.
"I proved to myself that I can play out here. I didn't really know that I was ready to win, I had a terrible start to the season and I felt like I was just trying to make my way into the top 110 and keep my card for next year. It's just a surreal way to do it."
Soderberg bogeyed the first and birdied the seventh to turn in 35 but it was a chip-in at the 10th hole that got him going. He holed long putts at the 11th and 12th and when he made another slippery one from distance on the 13th that sneaked in on the right side, he held the solo lead.
Samooja, from Finland, also dropped a shot at the first but then birdied the eighth and ninth and holed two long putts on the 12th and 13th to get into a share of the lead before Soderberg edged back ahead as he got up and down from sand on the 14th.
McIlroy lost a playoff at this event in his rookie season 11 years ago and he hardly looked like being in contention when he found himself two over par after 10 holes of his final round. The Northern Irishman birdied the 12th and 13th to get back to level and then took advantage of the back to back par fives at the 14th and 15th but he was still two behind. A right to left putt on the 17th had him within one.
Gagli was also at 14 under when he followed him in after an impressive run of his own. The Italian had double bogeyed the first but birdied the fifth, sixth and 10th before dropping a shot on the 11th. He then made the most of the 15th and almost aced the 16th, joining a four-man tie when Soderberg three putted the next from ten feet.
Overnight leader Romero bogeyed the first, third and fifth and he was still three over for his round before he made the most of the back nine's pair of par fives. A magnificent approach at the 17th then got him into the playoff but he missed the green with his second as Gagli found the water on the trip back up the 18th, leaving the other three players with birdie putts for the dramatic finale.
Spain's Adri Arnaus fired a 64 to finish a shot out of the playoff alongside Frenchman Mike-Lorenzo Vera, one shot clear of Australians Lucas Herbert and Wade Ormsby, Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and Austrian Matthias Schwab.
New jacket. Big trophy ????— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) September 1, 2019
First European Tour victory for Sebastian Söderberg. pic.twitter.com/YBNErvyCZO
After making three bogeys in his final five holes in round three, McIlroy admitted to feeling "flat", and he is now ready to take a few days off before going in search of a second triumph in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
“I made too many mistakes," he said. "I think I made 13 bogeys during the week. I made enough birdies but I just didn't have it over the weekend. It's been another solid week, coming back across the Atlantic, now I'm looking forward to a couple of weeks off. "This is my seventh event in eight weeks, I've played a lot of golf. Playing so much, little mental errors can creep in here and there. The sloppy finish yesterday probably cost me but I fought back today and did my best. It just wasn't meant to be.
"I'll put the clubs away for a few days, rest, recover and reflect on what has been a pretty good season so far, and try to get myself back up for Wentworth. I had a good battle with Francesco [Molinari] last year and I've won before at Wentworth, so I'm looking forward to it."
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