IT TAKES a mixture of skill and mental strength to succeed at the highest level in sport. An equal measure of both enabled Richie Ramsay to land his third European Tour title as the Aberdonian won the Hassan Trophy II in Morocco.
Sharing the lead at the start of the final round at Golf du Palais Royal, the 31-year-old went from three shots ahead to a couple behind after a triple-bogey 6 before a telling thrust – he birdied three holes in a row from the 12th – put his nose in front again when it mattered most.
A closing 69 for a ten-under-par total of 278 gave Ramsay a one-shot victory over Frenchman Romain Wattel (70), the Scot picking up a cheque for just over £180,000 as he added to his 2010 South African Open victory and a European Masters triumph two years later.
“This win means a huge amount,” declared Ramsay, who missed the start of last season due to injury before coming close to landing the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
This year, he’d made early exits in four of his five starts and, in the other, was forced to withdraw from the Dubai Desert Classic before the last round when feeling unwell.
Getting emotional as he savoured his welcome return to form, he added: “This is for my brother Robin, who has supported me since I was so young, and my wife Angela. I’ve gone through some tough times with injuries but I’ve kept believing. All the people who both support and sponsor me have said ‘go out and play golf’ and it was just so much fun out there – it was brilliant.”
Ramsay had started the day tied for the lead with compatriot Andrew McArthur and Wattel, who completed a trio with a tartan connection on the back of the Frenchman having won the Scottish Open Stroke-Play Championship at Gailes Links in 2010.
After making a blistering start – the pick of four birdies on the spin from the third was a 30-footer from off the green at the sixth – Ramsay quickly opened up a three-shot cushion only to squander that in the space of two holes.
He three-putted the seventh before coming up short with his tee shot at the par-3 eighth and twice saw chips – one with a wedge and the other a bump and run – come back to his feet from the raised green in running up a triple-bogey 6.
That disaster plummeted Ramsay from first to joint-fifth as he fell two behind Wattel, who had birdied the third and seventh in the company of McArthur, the former Scottish Amateur champion also dropping three shots at the eighth as his hopes of a maiden European Tour victory quickly frittered out. He closed with a 77 to finish joint-34th on two-under.
Crucially, Ramsay holed testing par putts at both the ninth and tenth before delivering a decisive second birdie burst of the day on the back nine. He knocked his tee shot stiff at the short 12th, rolled in a ten-footer at the next then made his second 2 in the space of three holes from 12 feet at the 14th.
The latter earned him the lead again, by one from Wattel, and the Scot’s cushion became two when the Frenchman three-putted the 14th to drop to eight-under. He was in danger of dropping another one after a fluffed chip from through the back of the green at the next but sent the next one into the hole to salvage his par.
As the roar from that echoed around the course, Ramsay pushed his tee shot at the par-5 17th into the bushes. He could easily have found himself requiring a penalty drop but, instead, was able to muscle his ball far enough up the fairway to find the green with the next and saved par.
That left Ramsay playing the 18th, the toughest hole on the course, still holding a two-shot lead, but he played that superbly to make his 4, which he ended up needing to keep his nose in front after Wattel birdied the penultimate hole but was unable to repeat the feat at the next to force a play-off.
“I made 6 – it was as simple as that,” as he recalled his potential disaster at the eighth. “I hit a poor first chip and it came back into a divot, but it’s one of those courses that has so many holes like that. Walking down nine I knew I was still in the mix at level par for the day and that the back nine is very scoreable. I made great putts on nine and ten to keep the momentum going.
“After holing the putt on the 12th, the putter felt great and I could see all the lines. I just thought – go for it, this is your time. I pretty much took it by the scruff of the neck over the next two holes and the 7-iron at the last was probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit. Both in terms of visualisation and execution, it was just perfect.”
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