Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello wins Scottish Open after play-off

Rafa Cabrera Bello celebrates after winning the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. Picture: SNS/Kenny Smith
Rafa Cabrera Bello celebrates after winning the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. Picture: SNS/Kenny Smith
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Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello claimed his first victory since 2012 by beating England’s Callum Shinkwin in a play-off for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.

It wasn’t quite Jean van de Velde all over again but certainly made you think about 1999 at Carnoustie, where the Frenchman imploded on the 72nd hole and opened the door for Paul Lawrie to become Open champion.

Callum Shinkwin came to the last at Dundonald Links needing a par-5 to win the

£5.5 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and blew it despite splitting the fairway with his drive. The Englishman paid a costly price for not laying up from there. After signing for a 6 following a poor pitch and run, having copped out when faced with a flop shot over a bunker with a burn behind the pin, he lost out to Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello at the first extra hole in a sudden-death play-off.

It was a sore one for Shinkwin, especially when he’d not put a foot wrong until then as the 24-year-old chased a maiden professional victory, but a second-placed prize of just under £600,000 should help soften the blow. As will the fact he’s now heading to Royal Birkdale, having secured a spot through this event in the 146th Open Championship along with Frenchman Matthieu Pavon and Andrew Dodt of Australia.

A week after rising star Jon Rahm won the Irish Open at Portstewart, Cabrera Bello made it back-to-back wins for Spain on links courses following a brilliant last-day performance. The 33-year-old closed with a course-record eight-under 64 for a 13-under-par 275 total. The world No 31 got lucky at the 18th as his approach somehow stayed out of the burn. There was nothing lucky, though, about the majestic second at the same hole with a 3-wood from 275 yards to 10 feet that set up a title-winning birdie in the play-off. As had been the case half an hour or so earlier, Shinkwin left a putt agonisingly short there.

Cabrera Bello’s third European Tour triumph - surprisingly, he hadn’t tasted victory since the 2012 Dubai Desert Classic - earned him just under £900,000. He’s the first Spaniard to become Scottish Open champion and joins Rahm and Sergio Garcia in heading to Southport with high hopes of getting in the mix in the season’s third major.

“I am very pleased because I have been working really hard to get my third win,” said Cabrera Bello. “Sometimes I’ve made mistakes when I’ve had chances while other times I’ve given it a good go only for other people to deserve to win. This time I really felt I played some of the best golf of my life. I had an unbelievable Sunday and I was pleased that it worked out my way. Hitting a 3-wood from 275 yards to 10 feet in the play-off was one of the best shots of my life.”

Having suffered a similar disappointment himself when losing out in play-off in the 2014 BMW International Open, Cabrera Bello, who has climbed to fourth in the Race to Dubai, said he sympathised with Shinkwin. “He got unlucky because he hit two great shots in at the last,” added the Las Palmas man. “Without that, it would have been him instesad of me sitting here. I feel for him as I have been in his skin in the past, having been unfortunate more than once.”

On a sun-drenched day - quite a contrast to the wet and windy conditions that turned Saturday’s third round into battle of attrition - Shinkwin looked to have set up victory with three birdies from close range at the seventh, eighth and ninth before a couple more majestic approaches at the 13th and 15th took him to 14-under. Following Cabrera Bello’s fortunate birdie at the last, Shinkwin needed to par three last three to keep his nose in front. But, after safely negotiating both the 16th and 17th, he agonisingly left a five-footer for victory an inch short at the last.

That followed him deciding not to take on a chip over a greenside bunker due to water being behind the pin. He was encouraged instead by caddie Andy Sutton, who was on Ben Curtis’ bag when he won the Open Championship in 2003, to play to the side of it but, with a poor bump and run, he didn’t get on to the green. After that, there was really only going to be one winner in the play-off. Shinkwin, a former amateur boxer, said he will fight back from this disappointment.

“Under the gun, I didn’t miss a shot until the last hole, where I got a bit of bad luck,” said the former English Amateur champion. “I hit a great second shot in and finished in a divot on a downslope of the bunker. I had no shot, really. I’m still more than happy to finish second, but the win was on my mind and it didn’t happen. However, I have learnt I can complete with the best.”

Pavon birdied the last for a closing to finish third on 10-under, two ahead of Dodt, Matt Kuchar, Anthony Wall, Ryan Fox and Padraig Harrington, who closed with a 66 - 13 shots less than the effort that cost him a title challenge after sharing the lead at the halfway stage. Dodt secured the last spot at Southport by virtue of a higher world ranking than Wall. Dodt had been due to be heading to New York for a holiday with his wife but their plans have now been changed. Life Pavon, the Brisbane man will be making his major debut.

Henrik Stenson signed off with a four-under 68 - his best round of the week - but the Swede is pessimistic about his chances of successfully defending the Open title at Royal Birkdale, as Padraig Harrington did at the Southport venue nine years ago. “I’m not really where I want to be in my game and maybe nothing else, either,” he said. “The long game hasn’t been in good shape for a long time and you can’t really work when you’re trying to perform. But this might be the only time we’re defending champion at the Open Championship, so I might as well enjoy it.”

Richie Ramsay finished as the leading home player in the event for the second year running after closing with a 72 for a two-under total, though that was scant consolation for the Edinburgh-based Aberdonian after a frustrating final day on the greens. “I set my own goals,” said Ramsay, “and, if I don’t hit them, then I’m going to feel disappointed, as I do at the moment. “I wanted

to go out today and shoot a number,

as I did in the final round of the Irish Open last week, but my putting stopped me from doing that. I missed three putts from inside four feet today.”

A last-day crowd of 13,912 took the total for the week to 51,197. That was up on 41,809 at Castle Stuart last year and wasn’t bad given that just over 7,000 braved the elements on Saturday. But, compared to the 92,534 at the previous week’s Irish Open, it was a bit of a disappointment.