Victor Perez Secures Maiden European Tour Victory at Dunhill Links
Matthew Southgate secured his playing privileges by finishing runner-up to Victor Perez at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, but the Englishman will leave Scotland knowing that he will never have a better chance of winning his first European Tour title.
He led the Frenchman by two shots as they played the par-five 14th hole and was well placed, just short of the green in two. But he fluffed his pitch and took three more shots to get down. As he bogeyed the hole, Perez picked up a birdie and they went to the 15th tied. Southgate was clearly affected by his blunder and it ultimately cost him as he struggled to keep his emotions in check. His fate was finally sealed when he dropped another shot at the 17th, the infamous Road Hole.
On the eve of the final round, Southgate had predicted that his biggest battle would be with himself. And so he proved. Afterwards, he tried to remain philosophical.
"I think I've proven to the world this week that when I do switch it on, I can mix it with the best and I've beaten a hell of a lot of good players this week," said Southgate. "I'm sure when it all comes out in the wash, I'll be having a beer somewhere with a smile and some good friends and I'll look back on this week as a huge success and a massive achievement in my career."
Perez has been based in nearby Dundee since last year and used all the links expertise he has gathered in his 18 months living on Scotland's east coast to card a 70 over the Old Course at St Andrews and get to 22 under. He and Southgate were tied at the top heading into the final day and they were still locked together on the 17th tee in a two-horse race that ebbed and flowed throughout the afternoon.
Southgate's bogey on the 17th handed Perez the initiative and the Englishman signed for a 71 to finish a shot adrift on the course where he had won the St Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur nine years previously.
Swede Joakim Lagergren finished at 20 under after a 69 for a third top four finish at this event, with England's Paul Waring alongside him after a 70.
Perez graduated from the European Challenge Tour after finishing third on the rankings last season and now moves into the top 70 in the world rankings and the top 20 in the Race to Dubai.
“My emotions were really high all day," he said. "It was really cold and windy, a long day out there and I felt I was able to battle. It wasn't easy, Matt played amazing. I was expecting some of the guys to charge and we were fortunate that it was kind of a one on one battle on the back nine. There's nothing like a win. The confidence that you get from getting it done, it's so difficult at this level to win. Being my first year, I'm obviously delighted."
Tommy Fleetwood carded a closing 64 to finish three shots off the lead but his 39 under total alongside businessman Ogden Phipps saw the duo take home the team honours. Rory McIlroy and dad Gerry also finished at 39 under but Fleetwood's solo total sealed the win as McIlroy junior finished at 15 under in the solo event - closing his 67 with six straight birdies.
Matthew Jordan, Tom Lewis, Jordan Smith and Jeunghun Wang finished alongside Fleetwood at 19 under in the individual contest.
Perez and Southgate started the day at 20 under but a three putt from Southgate saw Perez move ahead. Both players took advantage of the par five fifth but Southgate then found another gear, hitting a stunning approach to four feet on the sixth and another excellent second into the next. A tee shot to eight feet at the par three eighth had Perez back level but Southgate holed a 12 footer on the ninth to lead at the turn.
Perez three putted the 11th to put Southgate two ahead but there was a two shot swing on the par five 14th as a poor chip led to a Southgate bogey and Perez got down in two putts from off the green.
A Southgate three putt on the Road Hole led to another bogey and when both men parred the last, the champagne soaked celebrations belonged to Perez.
Lagergren birdied the first, fifth and 11th but back to back bogeys on the next two meant he was five back with five to play. A hat-trick of birdies put him right back in contention but his chances disappeared with a bogey on the 17th after finding the road with his second. The 17th also ended Waring's chances when he found the Road Hole Bunker after making birdies on the first, fifth, 14th and 16th to go with a bogey on the second.
Lewis matched Fleetwood with a 64, while Jordan and Wang carded rounds of 68 and Smith signed for a 69. Luke Donald, Tony Finau, Andrea Pavan, Richie Ramsay and Callum Shinkwin were 18 under.
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