Callum Shinkwin Claims Breakthrough Victory at Aphrodite Hills
IF YOU had offered Garrick Higgo and Robert MacIntrye final rounds of 65 in the Cyprus Open they would have bitten your hand off. And that’s precisely what they both scored at the magnificent Aphrodite Hills course.
But it wasn’t enough as the big-hitting Englishman Callum Shinkwin birdied the 17th and then holed an outrageous putt for an eagle on the final hole as he covered the back nine in 29 shots on his way to a sensational closing round of 63 and a four-round total of 264.
On a day of scarcely credible scoring, the top 10 played the final 18 holes in a cumulative 67 under par.
Veteran Jamie Donaldson came to the 17th requiring a birdie and an eagle to join Shinkwin on 20 under par, but parred the 17th and birdied the 18th to join MacIntyre and Higgo in third place. Meanwhile, Finland’s Kalle Samooja needed a birdie, birdie finish to pip Shinkwin to his long-awaited maiden European Tour title.
He settled for a par on the 17th so the equation was a simple one - a birdie at the last to force a playoff, an eagle to win. Samooja, 32, was also looking for his first victory and struck a huge drive down the 18th. He safely found the green with a four iron with Shinkwin looking on from the adjacent driving range. The putt he faced was almost identical to the one holed 20 minutes earlier by Shinkwin. He ran it six feet beyond the hole and bravely holed the return for a round of 64 - his second of the weekend. We had a playoff.
For both men it was their second playoff - Shinkwin lost the Scottish Open to Rafa Cabrera Bello and Samooja the European Masters to Sebastian Soderberg. For one of them, that was all about to change. Shinkwin found the bunker with his second at the 18th but got up and down for a birdie and when Samooja missed a five-foot birdie putt, Shinkwin was the champion.
Shinkwin said: “I played really well today, but that putt on the final green was a huge bonus. All I was looking to do was nudge it down to the hole and make my birdie. I am in shock. It is a great feeling to win this week. I have had to dig deep and trust myself after losing my card in 2018. I have a caddie on the bag now who helps me to read the putts and it has made a huge difference. I am over the moon.”
Samooja made the most of the par five third and sixth before an eight foot right to lefter on the seventh had him in a share of the lead. Shinkwin also took advantage of the two par fives on the back nine but both he and Samooja were trailing Sami Välimäki, who made birdies on the third, fifth, sixth, ninth, tenth and 11th to lead by two.
Samooja was among the nearest challengers as he recovered from a poor tee shot with a two putt birdie from 98 feet on the tenth, and then made another birdie on the 11th from eight feet.
Välimäki bogeyed the 13th and when Samooja holed from 18 feet on the same hole, he had the solo lead, but Shinkwin was stalking.
The 27-year-old made a two putt birdie on the tenth and holed from 12 feet on the 11th before he drove to the bunker in front of the green on the par four 14th and got up and down to put himself in position for his big finish.
MacIntyre had a birdie-birdie finish in a bogey free round of 65, a score matched by Higgo who finished with three birdies but had a single blemish on his card.
Donaldson made four birdies and did not drop a shot in a 67, the same score as Välimäki after the Oman Open champion bogeyed the 15th and 16th but made the most of the last.
Scrivener carded a 64, while Whitnell closed with a 65 to sit one shot ahead of Frenchman Adrien Saddier and two clear of Belgian Thomas Detry and Scot David Drysdale - who had held the lead early on day four.
Brian Gay should be looking forward to the Champions Tour. Instead, the 48-year-old can anticipate staying out on the PGA Tour until the end of 2023 at least after winning the Bermuda Championship. It was his first success since the American Express in 2013, and it came without warning.
Since the PGA Tour’s return in June, Gay had been without a top-25 finish in 11 starts. He had made 169 starts since his last victory and was beginning to accept that his immediate future lay on the Champions Tour.
But he carded a final-round 64 at the Bermuda Championship, capped off with a birdie at the 72nd hole, to force his way into a playoff with Wyndham Clark at 15 under. Gay won with a birdie on the first extra hole at Port Royal GC.
With his fifth Tour title, Gay becomes the oldest winner since Davis Love III at the 2015 Wyndham Championship. He gains entry into next year’s Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players Championship and The 2021 Masters, in addition to earning 500 FedExCup points. And he is fully exempt until 2023– well into his 50s. So, quite a week for the old boy.
“I did wonder,” said Gay. “I’ve struggled the past few months and been quite miserable on the golf course at times. Everyone around me kept telling me, ‘You’re still going to win. My wife says, ‘You’re still going to win; do it again.’ I just kept at it. This is one crazy game; you never know what’s going to happen. And it’s really hard to believe right now.”
After a tied third finish at last year’s Bermuda Championship, Gay knew that the 6,828-yard, par-71 Port Royal layout suited his game well. Prodigious length off the tee is not required; the seaside venue goes hand-in-hand with the ball-control brand that has led Gay to maintain a consistent presence on Tour for more than two decades. And he is about to extend that stay.
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