Emiliano Grillo lands ticket to next year’s Masters

Emiliano Grillo won the Frys.com Open despite nearly hitting world No 3 Rory McIlroy with a golf ball. Picture: AP
Emiliano Grillo won the Frys.com Open despite nearly hitting world No 3 Rory McIlroy with a golf ball. Picture: AP
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EMILIANO Grillo only turned 23 last month, but has already enjoyed – and in some cases endured – more memorable incidents than some players manage in an entire career.

There was the time in February 2014 when he took a two-shot lead into the final round of the Africa Open, only to card a quintuple-bogey 9 on the opening hole at East London Golf Club.

That was the first hole he had completed over par since the 15th in the first round, but the Argentine showed his class with birdies on the last five holes to battle back into a share of fifth.

Two weeks earlier, Grillo had finished second to Stephen Gallacher, the defending champion, in the Dubai Desert Classic, completing a closing 66 in amazing fashion by holing from 65ft for an eagle on the 18th after his approach had clattered into the hospitality tents behind the green and bounced back onto the green.

Earlier this year, victory in the Puerto Rico Open went begging when he missed from three feet on the 72nd hole, eventually losing out in a play-off.

And just a fortnight ago, he secured his PGA Tour card by winning the Web.com Tour Championship, fittingly by making a birdie on the 72nd hole.

But all of that will be forgotten after his exploits in the Frys.com Open over the weekend, where he nearly became famous as the man who took out Rory McIlroy by driving into the group ahead on the reachable par-four 17th during the third round.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who almost hit Rory McIlroy this week,” he said. “I wanted everybody to know me because I have the trophy.”

Grillo got his wish after a play-off with Kevin Na, missing from three feet for a winning birdie on the first extra hole before holing from three times the distance at the second time of asking.

It was the latest success from what is becoming known as the “class of 2011” that has also produced Jordan Spieth, Daniel Berger, Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers.

Spieth and Thomas tried to persuade Grillo to join them at their respective universities, but after turning professional aged 18, Grillo came through the European Tour qualifying school at the first attempt and enjoyed six top-10 finishes in his first two seasons.

Then came the runners-up finish in Dubai and that final-round nightmare in East London, but it only looked a matter of time before Grillo made his mark. He almost left his mark on McIlroy and was desperate to apologise to the four-time major winner. Sunday’s win means he can do so before his Masters debut next year.

“You say Masters... I can’t believe it,” Grillo said. “This is awesome, this is great. When I got the (tour) card, after the Web.com Championship, I saw I was 71, 72 in the world, so I said to my team, ‘We’ve got a chance to get in the top 50 by the end of the year, let’s try to get it done and maybe we can play the tournaments we always wanted’.”

McIlroy finished the tournament down in a tie for 26th, ending with a round of 69, while Martin Laird, after being in contention at the halfway stage, slipped to joint-64th at the end after closing rounds of 74 and 76.