Poke Heads Qualifiers in Dramatic Conclusion to Q-School Marathon
Benjamin Poke will be hoping it is third time lucky on the European Tour after winning the Qualifying School Final Stage marathon by six shots. He came through the same gruelling process in 2015 and 2016 but failed to make any real impression.
The Dane had set the pace at Lumine Golf Club since day two and went into the sixth and final round on 18 under par, two strokes ahead of Finland’s Sami Valimaki on 16 under and three ahead of Frenchman Adrien Saddier and India’s S.S.P Chawrasia, who shared third place on 15 under par. After a final round of 64, Poke finished on 25 under par. Frenchman Gregory Havret, who finished second behind Graeme McDowell at the 2010 US Open and has three European Tour wins to his credit, was second on 19 under, with Alexajandro Canizares third and Chawrasia fourth.
There were 28 cards up for grabs and at the other end of the field, Rikard Karlberg regained full playing privileges by securing his card on the number on the final hole of the six-day contest courtesy of a dramatic 50-foot birdie putt.
With his future hanging in the balance, the Swede left his approach into the closing hole short and right and was faced with a daunting 50-foot birdie putt to reach five under par for his round and 12 under par in total – the projected cut-off number for a European Tour card.
The 32-year-old was the last man to leave the practice ground following the fifth round as he went through putting drills, and it clearly paid dividends. He hit a perfectly-weighted putt that dripped in the centre of the hole to secure a dramatic closing birdie as the stress of a gruelling week and the joy of the thrilling finish hit home.
“I hit my second shot a bit further away from the pin than I wanted and had around 50 feet for birdie,” he said. “I had a feeling all day that the number would be 12 under par, so I knew I needed to hole it. When I hit it, I thought it should be good and then I saw it was tracing the line perfectly and saw the speed and thought ‘come on, just reach’.
“The euphoria I felt was just happiness. I don’t think anyone really likes this week. It’s horrible. It’s pressure all week and you’re walking with tension and you don’t have much room for error. This week has been so frustrating with my putter; I missed so many putts and then to be able to hole that one when I needed, it just feels fantastic.”
Karlberg has one European Tour win to his name – the 2015 Italian Open – and after being forced to take a break from golf due to a combination of depression coupled with a serious infection, he is returning to the top tier of European golf a better player. “I think I am a better golfer now than I was then. I’ve played a few years on Tour and I’ve learned about the pressure and I’ve learned that you need to hit the shots, even if you’re nervous.”
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