Gonzalez grabs Malmo glory with late birdie blitz

ARGENTINA’S Ricardo Gonzalez, without a top 10 finish all season, grabbed his fourth European Tour title in stunning fashion in Malmo yesterday.

Five birdies in the final six holes – and this on the longest course in Tour history – gave the 39-year-old a two-stroke victory over Welshman Jamie Donaldson at the SAS Masters.

The last two of them will live long in his memory.

First Gonzalez holed a difficult bunker shot at Barseback’s 459-yard 17th and then, after hooking into the trees down the 437-yard last, he threaded his nine-iron approach through a nine foot gap and hit it to within five feet of the flag.

“Incredible,” he said after signing for a four under par 69 and 10 under total of 282.

“It’s been a hard year, but I was fighting, fighting, fighting. I had the feeling that you can always make it if you work hard and never lose faith.

“I don’t know whether the shot on the last was luck or just brilliant!”

Gonzalez, whose last victory on the circuit was five years ago, also earned himself a nickname at last.

Compatriots Angel Cabrera and Eduardo Romero have long been known as “The Duck” and “The Cat”.

Gonzalez is now “El Hombre del Hacha” – “The Axeman” – because after missing out on the British Open he returned to his farm south of Buenos Aires and helped with the chopping down of trees.

Third place went to Denmark’s Jeppe Huldahl, winner of the Wales Open early last month.

Huldahl led by three at the turn as overnight leader Marcus Fraser struggled on his 31st birthday, but bogeyed the 10th and 11th and dropped further shots at the last two as well.

Pre-tournament favourite Henrik Stenson could not get inspired by playing on his home course and with two closing double bogeys for a 76 finished down in 73rd place on 10 over.

Stenson had pledged his prize money to his new Foundation charity and hoped, of course, it would be a six-figure sum. Instead it was less than £1,300 (€1,500).

Winning could have taken him back to his career-high fourth in the world, but even as it is he is set to move up from seventh to fifth today.

That was the good news for him. The good news for a tournament which, in terms of prize money, has slumped from seventh on the European Tour a decade ago to outside the top 40 is that new life is about to be breathed into it.

Next year it moves to Bro Hof near Stockholm, the new course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr which is Sweden’s candidate for the 2018 Ryder Cup. Owner Bjorn Öras plans to double the purse instantly to £1.7million (€1.965m) and within five years to make it the second richest event in Europe after the British Open. That is currently the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth at just under £4million (€4.625m).

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