Paul Eales slipped in at the death, holing a 10-foot birdie putt at the last, to clinch a first European Senior Tour title with victory in East Lothian, while it became Czech mate in the Ryder Cup qualifying race as another Englishman, Matt Fitzpatrick, secured the last of nine automatic spots.
Eales, a 53-year-old who was born in Essex but has been based in Lancashire for most of his career, used his experience of playing in the wind at both Royal Birkdale and neighbouring Hillside to prevail in a dramatic finish to the £250,000 Prostate Cancer UK Scottish Senior Open at Archerfield Links.
He came from seven shots behind at the start of the final round on the Fidra Links to claim a one-stroke victory, effectively securing a £38,000 top prize by coming home in four-under 32, an excellent effort as the wind switched round to the west to provide a much stiffer test than the opening two days.
While admittedly helped by former European No 1 Ronan Rafferty seeing his hopes of landing a first victory in 23 years undone by a closing 78, Eales will rarely have played a better nine holes when it mattered most. A run of three straight birdies from the tenth catapulted him into contention, good par saves from nine feet at both the 15th and 16th maintained momentum before he delivered the telling blow with a 4 into the wind at the last.
The victory, which sees Eales become just the seventh player to claim title triumphs on the Challenge Tour (1991 Audi Open), European Tour (1994 Extremadura Open) and European Senior Tour, was fuelled by the radio role that he has become better known for over the past decade. “I was working for Open Radio at Royal Troon and followed Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson in the final round,” revealed Eales, who has also been used in the past by BBC Radio Five Live as an on-course analyst. “There’s simply no way you couldn’t have been inspired by the quality of golf that day and it showed the game is in a great place at the moment.”
The former Royal Lytham assistant professional was particularly pleased to have returned to the winner’s circle after a 22-year gap at a venue he knows well. “Archerfield Links has always been a special place for me. Tom Younger, the chief executive, and all the other staff here feel like family to me,” he said. “I first came here when there was just one course and DJ Russell (who designed the two courses) is a great pal.”
Elsewhere, 21-year-old Yorkshireman Fitzpatrick secured qualification for next month’s Ryder Cup after finishing fifth behind American Paul Peterson in the D+D REAL Czech Masters at Albatross Golf Resort in Prague. A closing 69 cemented the ninth automatic spot in Darren Clarke’s team for Hazeltine, where he’ll join Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Chris Wood and Andy Sullivan along with the three wildcards set to be announced tomorrow week.
“Two years ago I was sat watching the Ryder Cup at home with no status on Tour... two years later and I’m in the team! Cannot wait!” wrote Fitzpatrick, winner of both the British and Nordea Masters during the year-long qualifying race, on Twitter.
Peterson, a 28-year-old from Arizona, closed with a 67 to claim the biggest victory of his career by a shot from Belgian Thomas Pieters (70). Marc Warren finished joint-11th.