David Higgins admits his sensational Italian Open peformance was the last throw of the dice of a desperate man.
The 40-year old Waterville warrior pulled off the best finish of his 17-year tour career, finishing tied second in Turin to move to within a whisker of the top 110 in the money list who will keep their cards at the end of the season.
When he arrived in Italy ranked 163rd in the Race to Dubai, Higgins feared it could be his last event of the season as he looked unlikely to qualify on his ranking for this week’s $8m Dunhill Links, the €2m Portugal Masters or the Perth International in Australia.
Faced with the unappetising possibility of having to go to the Second Stage of the Q-School next month, he won €130,280 - the biggest cheque of his career - to move to 111th in the Race to Dubai.
That secured his place in the field for Portugal and Australia but on Monday moring he got a call from the European Tour to tell him his enquiry about the possibility of getting one of three remaining sponsors’ invitations for this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship had borne fruit.
“It’s fantastic,” Higgins said. “To be honest with you, coming into last week I wasn’t sure if I was going to get any more starts after that. So it worked out great having the finish I had and then getting into Portugal.
“Then to get the invitation to the Dunhill Links was just fantastic. It’s a great opportunity. So I have gone from one extreme to the other because even the Australian event was looking doubtful.
“I was resigned to the fact that I might have to go back to Second Stage of Q-School again and you don’t want to be taking steps backwards like that over again.
“To be honest, I am not sure I would have been able to get myself up for it. But there you go. I am in a different position now and we will go ahead again now and give it a lash for these last three events.”
Higgins does not want to set a monetary target of what he might need to earn in his final three starts to finish comfortably inside the Top-110 though it’s likley he will need another €40,000.
“I know I haven’t got enough [cash on the board] and I still have work to do,” he said. “I am just enjoying what I did yesterday and not thinking about that. I will be thinking about that long enough over the next month.
“I am playing well enough and I have three big events so as long as I play decently I will be fine. I have three opportunities left and the Dunhill should be a good one with the links courses.
“After last week, anything is possible. We will just go there and give it our best shot. I’ve only played the Dunhill Links once before and missed the cut but I am in a different frame of mind going into this one. I am looking forward to it.”
Going for broke might just be the right attitude following his performance in Italy.
“I probably was more aggressive than normal though I wasn’t aware of it at the time,” Higgins said. “When you are thinking it could be your last go, you are subconsciously thinking there is nothing to lose here and I might as well have a crack at it. I probably was [going for it]. But I wasn’t purposely thinking that way.
“I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was because I felt it was my last chance or a bit of pressure but something inspired me. I felt great on the course and pulled off a great week. Maybe the extra pressure was good for me. I don’t know what you’d call it but it worked. It’s great.
“I putted very well but if you are looking at stats, it’s because I hit it very close. I hit so many iron shots to two and three feet. I don’t usually hit it that close but I must say I hit some fantastic shots all week long. Some great mid-irons stone dead. Two a round. There is no pressure on putting then.
“There were also four par-fives and I was reaching two of them and hitting sand wedges to the others and that is another good part of my game.
“So that would have helped the putting stats. I didn’t really hole many long putts but I certainly holed a lot of short ones, which always helps.”
Higgins go for broke attitude was evident when he took dead aim at a very tough pin at the 17th, hit a career shot but went over the back and then almost chipped in.
But his focus was even more impressive on the last, where he pulled his tee shot into a fairway bunker and hit a 172-yard seven-iron to 15 feet below the hole and rammed in the putt.
“It was brilliant,” Higgins said of his first pump celebration. “I had a feeling on that last putt that it was for a playoff.
“The 16th was 227 yards. The 17th the pin was up on the side of a hill. How your man Quesne made birdie there, I’ll never know. But to be honest i thought it was a playoff and I was delighted because I am sure it would have played off.
“But he made birdie and then to birdie the last as well was fantastic. To do that on 17 - it was up one hill and down another - it was his week and there was no fighting it.
“Still, I’ve got three opportunities left now, as I say, and it should be a good one in Scotland with the links courses. I can’t wait.”
Up to 377th in the latest world rankings, Higgins was outside the top 700 when he changed caddie and hooked up with Scot Gary Marshall, who had caddied for him in previous seasons, at Gleneagles.
Having made just six of the 14 cuts up to that point and been disqualified for having 14 clubs in the bag when he looked certain to qualify for The Open, he has gone on to make nearly €160,000 from his last four starts and missed just one weekend.
“I had Dave Rankin up until the mid-part of the season but we went out separate ways,” Higgins said. “I’ve made €160,000 with Gary so I will be doing my best to hold on to him now.
“He is a good caddie and he knows me quite well. I know how to pick a club at this stage but saying the right thing at the right time and knowing how to read a situation is as important as anything else, so he is good for me that way.”
Higgins won back his tour by coming through all three stages of the Qualifying School last year and felt he had the game to win, providing he found a course that suited his game.
Italy feel into that category but he admits he simply didn’t play well enough until his back was truly against the wall.
“There were a few that suited me before Turin,” he said. “I am not going to tell you any rubbish. There were plenty of courses that suited me.
“The last one in Spain was linksy style. The course in Holland was links style. I just didn’t play well enough. That’s the bottom line. You can’t be making excuses all day long.”
If he fails to finish in the Top 110 he is at least exempt into the final stage of the Q-School and will almost certainly get 12-14 starts next year. That’s a huge improvement on his situation just a week ago but Higgins is on a high. Anything his possible and he’s ready to roll the dice a few more times.