PETER Whiteford has the “bottle” to bounce back from the bitter disappointment of missing a four-foot putt to claim his first European Tour title, according to the Fifer’s long-standing coach.
The 32-year-old looked on in disbelief when his golden opportunity to win the £1.8 million Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea caught the edge of the cup but stayed above ground before losing to an eagle-3 from Australian Brett Rumford at the first play-off hole.
It left Whiteford with mixed feelings, a career-best cheque for just over £160,000 securing his place at the top table in European golf for next season after jumping to 37th in the Race to Dubai, but his joy about that being tempered by a tinge of disappointment.
“Guys like me don’t get many chances to win tournaments and I felt I hit a decent putt, even though it didn’t go in,” said the Scot after matching his best performance on the circuit, having also tied for second in the 2010 Andalucia Open behind Louis Oosthuizen.
“Once the dust settles, I’ll still look back and think it’s been a great week. I’ve probably done enough to keep my card, which I shouldn’t really be thinking about, but I can press on now and enjoy the rest of the season.”
On a tense final day at Blackstone Golf Club in Icheon, Rumford stormed to the turn in just 30 shots – three less than Whiteford – and led by two strokes with two holes to play before running up a double-bogey 6 on the 17th hole, following a wayward tee shot which resulted in a penalty drop.
Another miscued drive on the 18th hole meant the 35-year-old had to hole out from eight feet just to save par. When Fraser also made 5 at the last, Whiteford was presented with his opportunity to become Scotland’s third winner on the European Tour this season and fifth inside seven months.
“I had a great chance as I only had a 5-iron into the par-5 (for his second shot),” admitted the Kirkcaldy man, who is based at Wellsgreen Golf Centre, which is owned and run by his family. “But I bailed out a wee bit and tried to be a wee bit safe in a bid to make sure I made 4. I hit an average chip then obviously just mis-read the putt.
“But I’ll take the positives by trying to press on and hopefully I can go one better in China next week [in the Volvo Open]. I’ve not knocked on the door enough to know I will definitely win on the Tour one day but, after the way my season had gone until now, this is certainly a tremendous boost.”
With earnings of close to £215,000, the three-time Challenge Tour winner has already earned more than £40,000 more than he did in the whole of 2012, when he was left sweating over his card before finishing 110th in the Race to Dubai.
Two years ago, he finished 63rd on the money-list and now Donald McKay, his trusty coach based at the excellent Wellsgreen facility between Kirkcaldy and Leven, is tipping Whiteford, one of the most-laid back characters in the game, to use his strong showing in South Korea to go on to bigger and better things.
“I’ve had faith in Peter’s game for a long time and hopefully he can move forward and up a level again after this week,” said McKay. “He is a perfect example of someone who hasn’t had his natural ability coached out of him. We work with what he knows works for him. This allows him to trust his swing, which is where he gets the bottle and doesn’t back off in contention.”
On a brutally difficult course, Whiteford signed off with a third successive 69 for a 11-under-total of 277, matched by Rumford and Fraser after they both closed with 68s.
Before the trio returned to the 18th tee for the play-off, Rumford phone his coach Pete Cowen for a quick tip from the Englishman and promptly struck a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway.
After both his opponents failed to find the green with their second shots but still managed to make birdie-4s, the Perth native struck a stunning approach to around three-feet to secure his fourth European Tour victory.
“At least we got beaten by a 3 in the play-off and didn’t throw it away – Brett deserves it,” remarked Whiteford of the shoot-out result, which saw Rumford climb from 138th to 18th place in the Race to Dubai.
“I battled with my driver constantly,” admitted the winner. I had a quick word with Pete, hit five or six balls [before the play-off] and it did the trick.”
Stephen Gallacher enjoyed his best finish since winning the Dubai Desert Classic in February, a closing 68 that contained seven birdies in eight holes earning him a share of sixth and a cheque for just under £50,000.
He finished on 281, six shots better than Marc Warren (73) in joint-40th while Richie Ramsay (71) and Paul Lawrie (73) shared 49th on 288.