MARC Warren’s luck in play-offs ran out at the worst possible time. After claiming his four professional victories to date following play-offs – two on the European Tour and two on the Challenge Tour – it was fifth-time unlucky as the Scot suffered a painful end on a day when he came agonisingly close to winning the £4 million BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
One ahead with four to play on a sun-kissed finale in Surrey, the 32-year-old was unable to convert a 20-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole that would have secured victory in the European Tour’s flagship event. It left him involved in a three-way play-off with Englishman Simon Khan, the winner in 2010, and Italian Matteo Manassero.
Changing his gameplan at the first extra hole cost Warren dearly. Having gone with either a 3 or 4-iron all week, he switched at the last moment to a 3-wood and plumped it deep into the trees. Playing three off the tee, this time with a driver, he almost found the burn and, from a downhill lie, put the next one in the water at the green.
It was a sorry end to a splendid title challenge and, as 20-year-old Manassero went on to claim the title at the fourth hole and topple Bernard Gallacher as the event’s youngest winner, Warren was left licking his wounds after seeing a third victory chance slip from his grasp in the last ten months, having also suffered disapointment when he’d led late on in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart and Spanish Open at El Saler.
A blistering burst of four successive birdies after the turn – the highlight a holed wedge shot from the fairway at the 13th – had put him in the driving seat on this occasion as he closed with a 69 to finish on ten-under alongside playing partner Manassero and Khan.
As he did when springing a surprise here three years ago, Khan came out of nowhere. He was seven behind then and shot 66 on the last day. Starting out in the same position, he did it again with a flawless six-birdie display. “I definitely drew on those feelings that day,” he admitted before being left with an agonising wait to see if his clubhouse target would be good enough to earn him a dream double.
The way Lee Westwood started it seemed as though the Englishman was going to take the event by the scruff of its neck. One behind overnight leader Alejandro Canizares, he made three straight birdies from the third to move to 11-under and, all of a sudden, found himself two shots clear of the field.
It started to go wrong for the world No 12, however, after he’d been distracted in the middle of his back swing by a noise in the crowd on the sixth tee. A bogey there was followed by another dropped shot at the next where his much-maligned short game saw a three-footer missed.
After starting in reverse with a bogey at the third, Warren was soon motoring. He rolled in a 20-footer to eagle the fourth, gave one of those shots back at the short fifth, before storming to the top of the leaderboard with four straight birdies. An impressive 2-3-4-3 run took him to 11-under and it would have been a relief to the Scot when he saw Westwood’s name tumble off the leaderboard as he made a disastrous beginning to his inward journey.
A pulled tee shot found heather at the 11th and he did well to escape there with a 5. When he made the same mistake at the next, it cost him a double-bogey 7 after he’d been forced to take an unplayable lie before failing to convert another short putt.
Playing in the same group, it meant Warren and Manassero almost found themselves in a match-play situation over the closing holes. Both got lucky at the 15th as pulled tee shots hit timber and rebounded back towards the fairway. But, while the Italian made the most of his break with a par, a poor bunker shot cost Warren a bogey.
Neither was able to convert birdie putts at the 16th and both failed to make 4 at the 17th. As had been his strategy all week, Warren hit in an iron off the tee at the last, meaning he couldn’t get up in two blows. Both he and Manassero, who found sand with his drive, were then left with 20 foot birdie putts which they missed, meaning the event would be decided by a play-off.
Instead of either Canizares, who never really looked like winning yet had an eagle putt at the last to get into the play-off, or Sergio Garcia, who started the day four shots off the lead, 49-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez produced the final-round Spanish surge.
Playing in his 600th European Tour event, the second oldest player in the field after Colin Montgomerie signed off with a second successive 67. It was a splendid effort from a man who’s only recently returned to competitive action after breaking his leg in a skiing accident. Although you feel Jimenez still has more wins in his tank, the popularity of the Malaga man, both with his fellow players and fans, surely makes him the ideal European captain for the 2018 Ryder Cup in France.
Garcia admitted the “emotions” of a week that had seen him spark a racism storm over a remark aimed at Tiger Woods had taken their toll. “I felt it a little bit today,” he said. “The support was amazing again and it would have been difficult to get through the week without their support, but today I wasn’t on my game.” His next appearance will be in next month’s US Open at Merion, where he plans to meet Woods “face to face” to try and put an end to their spat.
On a day that saw the total crowd for the week break the 100,000 barrier for the first time, Ernie Els closed with a 67 in a tie for sixth, just ahead of Richie Ramsay who signed off with a 69. David Drysdale (70) tied for 19th, Chris Doak (70) shared 40th while Colin Montgomerie closed with a two-under effort to tie for 45th. Greig Hutcheon, after his 67 on Saturday, came down to earth with a 79 to tie for 62nd and 2004 winner Scott Drummond’s 76 saw him finish joint last.