It's Allez Dhabi for Victor Perez as Dundee-based Frenchman steps up Ryder Cup bid
Helped by holing out from a greenside bunker for a timely birdie-2 at the 17th hole at Yas Links, Dundee-based Perez signed off with a 66 to finish with an 18-under-par 270 total. He won by a shot from Swede Sebastian Soerberg (67) and Australian Min Woo Lee (68) after a thrilling title tussle.
It was the 30-year-old’s third third win on the circuit, having made his breakthrough in the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Scottish soil then adding the Dutch Open last May. This victory lifted Perez to the top of the Race to Dubai standings and up to second on the Ryder Cup European points list.
“I played unbelievable,” said Perez as he savoured a success worth $1.53 million. “It was so packed for a long time. I got off to a good start, and I was just focusing on me and try to do the best I can because I knew you can't control what everybody else is doing, and I was just trying to plot along.
“But Sed [playing partner Soderberg] played fantastic and was right there and never gave me an opening. I'm delighted to finish at the top. It was a crazy finish, but I feel like I'm used to that now (having won in the Netherlands in a play-off). Hopefully I can make it a little easier for the next one.”
After winning the Dunhill Links, Perez was in a strong position to play in his first Ryder Cup only to see the scheduled 2020 contest at Whistling Straits pushed back by 12 months due to the Covid pandemic. In the end, he wasn’t in the mix for Padraig Harrington’s picks.
But, having backed up a strong performance in the inaugural Hero Cup - he recorded three-and-half points out of four in helping Continental Europe beat Great Britain and Ireland 14.5-10.5 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club - with this eye-catching effort, he looks determined to make Luke Donald’s side for the 2023 edition at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome in September under his own steam.
“It's a position that I know I've been in,” he admitted, smiling. “I'm delighted because it's something I can hopefully draw a little bit of experience from and maybe use it going forward.”
One behind overnight lead on a tightly-packed leaderboard, Perez birdied the first, second, sixth and seventh to turn in 32. He then started for home by making back-to-back gains, dropped a shot at the 14th but then birdied the 15th and 17th, where he celebrated holing that bunker shot by chest bumping his caddie.
“Yeah, it wasn't actually as difficult as a bunker shot because it was downhill to the hole, flat at the hole and into the wind,” he said, modestly. “So I was basically trying to fly it all the way to the hole.
“In the back of my mind, I'm just thinking Sed is going to make 2 and, if I make 4, then we are tied with the last hole to go. It came up maybe a little skinny, I'm not going to lie, and spun back and the fortune of the ball going in, which is probably the greatest shot I've ever hit.”
He then found a bunker with his drive at the last, a hole for potential disaster. “It was just a horrible lie,” he said. “I thought, you know, I was going to hit it square and maybe chunk it and leave it pretty much where Grant [Forrest, one of his playing partners] was and had to hit a really long third.
“But we thought we could make some sort of contact, maybe hit it thin and go all the way over the ridge which would make the third a lot easier and then not have the water to deal with. And it went left, and a giant fortune the ball doesn't bounce in the hazard.
“Because I would have to drop in the rough, you're playing 4, you catch a flyer and now the whole thing is back on the table. So a bit of fortune, a great 7-iron in, and then an eight-inch putt to finish.”
Before becoming overcome with emotion and understandably so, Perez admitted that his flying start to 2023 had teed up a mouth-watering few months. “It's a great year ahead,” he said. There's a lot of big things coming up.” I've had a really good off-season. I've worked really hard. It's just great.”
Lee, the 2021 Genesis Scottish Open champion, has now recorded seven top-12 finishes in a row, having also come close to tasting victory again in both the Open de Espana and Andalucia Masters towards the end of last season. With Edinburgh man Stuart Davidson on his bag, the talented 24-year-old birdied the last to finish alongside Soderberg.
Padraig Harrington, who was bidding to become the oldest winner on the circuit, finished fourth on 16-under, two shots ahead of both 2018 Open champion Francesco Molinari and Alex Noren, who won the Scottish Open two years earlier.
On a day when Finland’s Sami Valimaki set a new course record with a blistering 10-under-par 62, there were two holes-in-one. Tyrrell Hatton’s ace at the 13th with a pitching wedge came en route to a closing 65 that catapulted him into a tie for seventh.
His fellow Englishman, Dan Bradbury, meanwhile, won a Genesis G70 Shooting Brake 2.0 Sport car worth $55,000 as he holed a 6-iron at the 201-yard 17th. Having already won the Joburg Open, it’s been some start to his rookie season.
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