Hoey comes back to claim Estoril title

Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey came from five shots back and then won a three-hole play-off to capture his first European Tour title today.

Thirty-year-old Hoey, at long last joining former Walker Cup team-mates Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Nick Dougherty as a winner on the circuit, beat Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in the Estoril Portuguese Open at Oitavos Dunes.

It won him £192,755 (€211,559) and a two-year Tour exemption – and it made him the first player out of four to beat the Madrid golfer in sudden death.

They had tied on the seven-under-par mark of 277, with world number 273 Hoey scoring a joint best-of-the-day 66 after teeing off joint 19th, but fearing that a missed eight-footer on the last would cost him dear.

It didn’t, though, and after holing from the same distance to triumph he said: “It’s a joke really – a bit of a dream.

“I didn’t really think about winning going out, but I was lucky – I got all the breaks.

“I couldn’t believe I was in the play-off, let alone getting up and down, up and down, up and down.”

The play-off began with two more trips down the 18th. Both players missed the green first time, but reigning British Masters champion Fernandez-Castano holed from eight feet and Hoey from four.

Next time the Spaniard almost converted a 35-foot birdie attempt and Hoey, short of the green once more, sank a five-footer to stay alive.

When they switched to the 17th they missed the green again. This time, however, Fernandez-Castano missed from 12 feet and Hoey seized his chance.

Hoey was British amateur champion in 2001, played with Donald, McDowell and Dougherty in the victory in Georgia later the same year and the following year was just one shot away from becoming the first British amateur to make the cut in The Masters since Peter McEvoy in 1978.

But while they were instant hits in the pro ranks. he struggled even to get on Tour.

He did come through the Challenge circuit in 2005, but was back at the qualifying school for the sixth time last November.

Finally coming through that gave him confidence, as did a sixth-place finish in Madeira two weeks ago. But victory still came as a shock.

Earlier in the day he had birdied the third, sixth, seventh and 10th and suddenly found himself leading when overnight leader Paul Broadhurst, in stark contrast, bogeyed the second, third and fifth.

Three-putting the short 12th and missing a three-foot birdie chance on the next looked as if it might be costly for Hoey, but he then holed from 15 and 20 feet from the fringes of the next two greens.

Still seven under with one to play he was joined when Fernandez-Castano made a 20-footer on the short 15th, but a superb six-iron to eight feet on the last - the hole where Barry Lane took nine to lose to Broadhurst four years ago – gave Hoey a chance to get to eight under.

He left his birdie attempt short, however, and admitted afterwards: “I was probably thinking about the result.”

At the same time Fernandez-Castano was three-putting the 16th for par, but after failing to make the green on the last he chipped to within three feet of the flag.

Such is the Madrid golfer’s lack of confidence on the greens at the moment that he uses his caddie to line him up even from short range, but he sank it for a 67 to extend the battle.

Third one shot back was Italian Francesco Molinari, who missed an 18-foot birdie chance on the last, but Broadhurst, who had hoped for a third win in the event in five years, managed only a 73 and had to settle for joint fourth with Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Swede Mikael Lundberg.

They all held at least a share of top spot at some point during the day, as did England’s David Lynn and David Dixon and Dutchman Maarten Lafeber.

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