Tommy Fleetwood’s cast-iron constitution proved critical on Sunday night as the 22-year-old Englishman held his nerve to clinch victory in the Johnnie Walker Championship, beating Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher and Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez at the first hole of the sudden-death play-off.
Fleetwood, who had shared the overnight lead with Gonzalez, had earlier appeared to have blown his chances of victory when he fell two shots behind with a bogey five at the par-four 15th. However, a brilliant eagle at the 16th, followed by a birdie at the par-five 18th, took him to 18-under-par and gave him one last chance to win.
Against two men with a combined total of 45 years’ professional experience, Fleetwood, a second-season pro, was third favourite for the title as the trio made their way to the 18th tee.
That situation altered little as they unleashed matching drives up the fairway, but Fleetwood hit by far the best approach, finding the heart of a green that eluded the two others. Gonzalez and Gallacher took another three strikes to get down, so Fleetwood’s straightforward two-putt was good enough to win.
Fleetwood, who was runner-up in the Amateur Championship at Turnberry in 2008, had earlier proclaimed his fondness for Scotland. With a cheque not far short of £250,000 now heading into his bank account he could probably buy himself a decent slice of the place, but he might also start to dream of coming back to Gleneagles as part of the European Ryder Cup team next year.
“I’m probably the most unmaterialistic person in the world,” Fleetwood said with a shrug when asked if he planned to reward himself with his winnings. “Winning is enough for me. Winning is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
"To win is just absolutely amazing. When I look at all the winners on tour, I’ll admit I’m jealous, but finally it’s my turn. i had to wait a little longer than I wanted, but this feeling is just what I wanted.
“The Ryder Cup is a long way off. It’s obviously a lifetime goal and something I really want to do, but whether that’s next year or in three or five years’ time doesn’t really matter. But next year would be lovely, that’s for sure.”
Gonzalez, who required regular treatment for a knee injury throughout his final round, had come agonisingly close to clinching victory at the 72nd hole of regulation play.
Having dropped his approach into a bunker at the front of the green, the Argentine then pitched out brilliantly, but his ball lipped out and he had to settle for the birdie that got him into the play-of rather than the eagle that would have given him the title.
Gallacher had given himself his chink of light with an even more dramatic finish, draining an eagle putt from 15 feet to keep his hopes alive. It was his second eagle of the week at the 18th, and with birdies in his other two rounds, his aggregate score from four visits was six-under-par.
Not a bad performance in front of Paul McGinley, given the Ryder Cup captain’s fondness for what he calls “horses for courses”.
“I like the course and it suits my game,” the Scot said. “If I can just keep playing the way I’m playing, I’m sure I’ll be knocking on the door.”