Brown Pulls Rabbit From the Hat to Secure Card in Portugal
WHEN Steven Brown arrived on the first tee at the Portugal Masters his world ranking was 550 and he found himself in 150th place in the Race to Dubai. His only chance of securing full playing privileges on the European Tour for next season would be if was able to win as this was the final regular event of the season. Brown had no reason to believe it would happen but, incredibly, he overhauled South Africa’s Brandon Stone thanks to a magnificent final round of 66 that featured three birdies an eagle. It saw him finish the week on 17 under par, and gave him a one-shot victory ahead of Stone and Justin Walters.
But much more important for Brown is that he now has a two-year exemption after a triumph that sees him finish the regular season in 69th place in the Race to Dubai.
He started the final day at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course three shots off the lead after carding a 65 in round three but not even his closest friends and family could have believed that he would go on to achieve his maiden success. However, after turning in 33, a birdie on the 11th put him into a position where he would keep his card and an eagle on the next took him to 17 under. He then showed nerves of steel to par his way home and finish a shot clear of Stone and Walters. Brown played the final 40 holes without dropping a shot.
Walters finished second here in 2013 to keep his card just weeks after the death of his mother and after losing his father in the summer, he was runner-up once again to keep his place on tour as he moved up from 121st in the Race Dubai. The top 115 keep their cards, with Jeunghun Wang and Jack Singh Brar doing enough to survive. But for every success story there is another that ends in tears, and it turned out to be a miserable week for Min Woo Lee, Niklas Lemke, Clément Sordet and Lee Slattery, all of whom finished the tournament outside the magic number. Chilean Hugo Leon carded a closing 68 to finish at ten under but he was the man to agonisingly finish 116th.
Walters admitted that losing his father had a huge impact on him. "It’s about finding a bit of perspective after the loss of my dad," he said. "I just felt lost, I was trying to get too much out of the game and looking at that to solve my problems and issues. It’s very satisfying just after what we’ve been through. I think yesterday [Saturday] I went through the hardest part. I felt vulnerable for the first time all week.
"Aside from a few putting problems, I did alright. I kept telling myself to keep doing the same stuff. I putted really well today. I left it all out there."
Frenchman Adrien Saddier finished the week 15 under after a 66, one shot clear of England's Chris Paisley and two ahead of South Korean Wang and Eddie Pepperell, a golfer who lost his card in Portugal three years ago but proved what can be achieved by winning it back and going on to win on the European Tour.
Brown graduated from the European Challenge Tour in 2017 and came within a whisker of winning in his maiden campaign, losing out to Matt Wallace in a four man playoff at the Made in Denmark but he has had a dreadful time of it this season. A tie for 11th at the French Open represented his best finish of the year. His victory in Portugal also secures him a place in the field for the Turkish Airlines Open. Unsurprisingly, Brown was delighted. "You just never know with this game," he said. "It's crazy to think how well I've played the last month to how bad it was the first two thirds of the year. I never thought this was going to happen. I was just counting down ready for Tour School to get my game ready for that. "The last few weeks I've had a calmness in my head. Even today, I liked the fact that I had to go for it and I wasn't just trying to have a good result. That's probably the difference. I went to Turkey as first reserve last year and didn't get to play so it'll be nice to turn up and actually be in the field this year.”
Stone started the day with a two shot lead and played a wonderful bunker shot on the second for a birdie before hitting a magnificent approach into the third to move three ahead. Another birdie at the par-five fifth took Stone to 18 under but he missed the green at the sixth for a bogey. Walters reached the turn in 32 after birdies at the fifth and ninth. The 39-year-old found sand from the tee at the 10th but played a wonderful second for another birdie and found himself two behind Stone.
Brown, meanwhile, birdied the second from five feet and holed a 25 foot left to righter on the ninth to turn in 33 but was still three adrift. Stone holed a long putt on the 10th to lead by three but Walters took advantage of the par five 12th and then birdied the 14th to cut the lead to one. A tap-in at the 11th edged Brown closer before a stunning second at the 12th to five feet for an eagle, which drew him level with Walters. Stone dropped a shot at the 13th and suddenly there was a three-way tie.
Walters three-putted the 16th before making a birdie at the par-five 17th but he dropped another shot at the final hole. Stone also three-putted the 16th and it left 32-year-old Brown in the lead. He then parred the final two holes to secure a famous win. Wang carded a 69 to move up from 119th on the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex, while Singh Brar recorded a closing 66 to get to 12 under and move up from 117th.
Anton Karlsson made the 27th hole-in-one of the season as he holed a five iron from 197 yards.
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