JUST two months after digging deep to hang on to his card, Richie Ramsay displayed the fine line between success and failure in top-level sport when he secured his first European Tour title after winning the South African Open in a play-off at Pearl Valley yesterday.
The 25-year-old Aberdonian came from five behind going into the final round, carding a best-of-the-day 65, seven-under-par, before beating India's Shiv Kapur with a birdie on the first play-off hole.
It was Scotland's first win on the European circuit since Alastair Forsyth lifted the Madeira Island Open title 19 months ago but, with Martin Laird having also won on the PGA Tour this year and Catriona Matthew being crowned Ricoh Women's British Open champion, Scottish golf will now end 2009 in good spirits.
"I'm in a flood of emotions and holding back the tears," said Ramsay after being presented with the second oldest trophy in golf, won 12 times by Gary Player and lifted on four occasions by Ernie Els.
"As a kid, I've always wanted to win a Tour event and I'm delighted it's happened here because I love coming to South Africa."
Ramsay, who, three years ago, became the first Scot to win the US Amateur in 108 years, and Kapur tied on the 13-under-par mark of 275 but the former Walker Cup player grabbed the first prize of 141,745 – and a Tour exemption that runs until the end of 2011 – when he was on the green in two at the 601-yard 18th and two-putted.
The Scot did not drop a shot all day, going to the turn in 33 and then grabbing more birdies on the tenth, 12th, 15th and 17th.
The last of those came courtesy of a 14-footer following a superb approach from the rough over water. As his ball landed safely on the green, Ramsay heaved a huge sigh of relief, admitting to his caddie, fellow Scot Mark Crane, that he thought it was going to end up in the hazard.
The birdie there brought Ramsay into the joint lead and, after he had missed a 25-foot birdie chance on the last after leaving himself with an awkward pitch over a greenside bunker, Kapur stood on the same green with a 12-foot putt for his first Tour title but missed.
Kapur was unable to get up in two at the first play-off hole but, just as Laird had done when he won the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on the PGA Tour earlier in the year, Ramsay came up with one of the shots of his life when the pressure was on, hitting a 3-wood pin high at the par-5 to set up a title-winning birdie.
"This week things just went for me," added Ramsay, who only secured his European Tour card for the new season – the South African Open was the second event on the 2010 schedule – by finishing fourth in the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews in October.
"My caddie Mark showed a lot of belief in me and I went out there with a goal of winning the tournament.
"One of my friends out in the States, Dick Gilbert, has helped me work with Bob Rotella a bit and that has changed my whole mentality. I'm a lot more positive these days. I go out there thinking and believing I can win. When you change that mental attitude trophies come and there's no greater feeling than winning."
On being told about some of the famous names that adorned the trophy in his hands – Sir Bob Charles, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh and Trevor Immelman are other former winners – Ramsay said: "They are icons of the game. The Big Easy (Els] is someone you look up to as a kid and it's fantastic to have my name up there alongside them."
Ramsay went into the event ranked 240th in the world but the victory will take him just inside the top 120, making him the second highest-ranked Scot behind US Tour-based Laird.
Ramsay, who first underlined his potential when winning the Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship at Lundin in 2004 and honed his golfing skills at Stirling University, led the Wales Open at the halfway stage earlier in the year.
He eventually finished in a tie for tenth at the Celtic Manor Resort after finding himself in a rules controversy there but, a few months on, Ramsay has managed to make the breakthrough and, along with Laird, he will now have his sights set on making a strong push for a place in Colin Montgomerie's European Ryder Cup side. Denmark's Anders Hansen, Swede Fredrik Andersson Hed and Italian Edoardo Molinari all could have joined the play-off with a closing eagle but failed.
Hansen's birdie left him third – he also became the first non-South African to win the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit since Peter Oosterhuis in 1972 – while the other two parred to be joint fourth – and that was good enough for Molinari to climb into the world's top 50 just in time to join his brother Francesco in the season's first major, the Masters at Augusta in April.
Overnight leader Pablo Martin, winner of last week's Alfred Dunhill Championship, dropped to sixth with a 73.
Helped by the only eagle of the day at the final hole, David Drysdale closed with a 70 to tie for 21st on five-under, one better than Andrew Coltart (70) and three ahead of Callum Macaulay (74).
FINAL SCORES (Gbr and Ire unless stated, par 72)
275 Richie Ramsay 67 75 68 65 Shiv Kapur (India) 71 68 69 67 (Ramsay won play-off at the first extra hole) 276 Anders Hansen (Denmark) 66 69 72 69 277 Fredrik Andersson Hed (Sweden) 71 68 68 70; Edoardo Molinari (Italy) 68 69 69 71 278 Darren Fichardt (South Africa) 73 71 68 66; Pablo Martin (Spain) 65 68 72 73 279 Michiel Bothma (South Africa) 68 73 68 70; Soren Hansen (Denmark) 70 72 70 67; Michael Jonzon (Sweden) 68 75 69 67; James Kingston (South Africa) 72 66 69 72; Chris Swanepoel Jr. (South Africa) 72 69 68 70 280 Alejandro Canizares (Spain) 69 67 74 70; Pelle Edberg (Sweden) 76 69 68 67 281 Richard Bland 73 72 66 70; Gregory Bourdy (France) 69 74 70 68; Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) 68 69 73 71 282 Jacques Blaauw (South Africa) 69 75 69 69; Scott Dunlap (US) 72 70 70 70; Richard Sterne (South Africa) 71 69 74 68 283 Adilson Da Silva (Brazil) 69 69 74 71; David Drysdale 75 70 68 70; Branden Grace (South Africa) 72 70 74 67; Simon Khan 73 71 68 71; Damien McGrane 69 72 71 71 284 Thomas Aiken (South Africa) 69 71 71 73; Marc Cayeux (Zimbabwe) 73 72 68 71; Andrew Coltart 74 67 73 70; Jean Hugo (South Africa) 72 69 70 73; Charl Schwartzel (South Africa) 77 68 70 69 285 George Coetzee (South Africa) 74 67 74 70; David Hewan (South Africa) 77 68 69 71; Robert Rock 71 74 71 69; Dawie Van der Walt (South Africa) 65 73 74 73.