Michael Hoey regained his European Tour card with a sensational closing 67 in Spain and roared: I’m ready for it this time. Download results and qualified players
The Ulsterman, 29, finished eighth in the six-round marathon at PGA Golf de Catalunya when he hit an eagle, four birdies and just one bogey in the joint best round of the day to finish on 13-under par.
In the end, 32 players earned tour cards with Hoey’s fellow Ulsterman Jonny Caldwell coming through on the six-under par limit when he made a gutsy par four at the 18th for a 74. But there was agony for Derry’s Michael McGeady as he bogeyed the last to miss out on his tour card by a single shot after a final round 72.
Hoey said: “I can’t believe it’s over but I am delighted. I feel a lot better about my game that I did when I first got my card in through the Challenge Tour rankings at the end of 2005. I’m definitely more mature and my short game has really improved.
“It is just nice to finish it off. The worst thing would be to totally mess up six rounds of golf. Things went my way and I got the right bounces. I also putted very well throughout the week.”
Hoey paid tribute to tour caddie and fellow Belfast man Owen Craig as well as his short game coach Andrew Ferguson and the Team Ireland Golf Trust.
And he confessed that he was buzzing with confidence all week after finishing joint fourth in last week’s Hassan II Trophy in Morocco behind winner Ernie Els.
“Speaking to my caddie I only missed one short putt a round,” Hoey said. “That was the key last week in Morocco as well. To finish just four shots behind someone like Ernie Els was huge for my confidence.
“I shot seven under and I was tied for fourth with Paul McGinley. And he said in the courtesy car on the way back to the airport that my game should be ready for Q-School now.
“My game was obviously good this week and having a tour caddie really helped a lot. Owen was with Thomas Levet for eight years and has caddied for Gary Murphy and Anthony Wall as well. We got on really well all week.”
Tied for 15th starting the day, Hoey bogeyed the fifth but birdied the sixth, seventh and 10th before securing a top card with an eagle three at the 12th, where he hit a 235-yard rescue to three feet, and a birdie at the 15th.
“I think the eagle on 12 really took the pressure off and after that I kind of realised that I was going well and should keep trying to pick up shots. I certainly wasn’t going to choke my way in because I am playing for tournaments.
“I think after playing so well last week in Morocco has given me so much confidence. I finished fourth there and when you are standing at the prize giving ceremony next to a guy like Ernie Els then you can’t fail to take confidence from that. That helped me a lot, you start to think that you should be playing against these guys every week.
“I feel a lot better about my game that I did when I first got my card in through the Challenge Tour rankings at the end of 2005. I have three Challenge Tour wins, which is massive. But my short game has really improved and that is what it comes down to in the end.
“You can talk about ball-striking but it all comes down to chipping and putting and that is what I have been working on for the last couple of months.
“I do feel like a different player. I am a lot more mature than I was and know not to mess around with my swing and not to hit too many balls on the range. I know when not to go to the range and not to feel guilty about it. It is just simple stuff.
“The last two months were the key as well because I had a sixth and a fifth place finish that gave me a lot of confidence. That’s the way I should have played after I won in Morocco early in the season.
“But I lost my putting after Morocco and when you lose your putting on the Challenge Tour, where the scores are 15 or 20 under, you are not going to do anything.
“I have putted very well for the last 10 rounds of golf and I would like to thank my short game coach, Andrew Ferguson at Royal Belfast. He has really helped me a lot on the greens and he was here this week.
“I’d like to thank Team Ireland as well, who gave me €15,000 when I really needed it. That was massive. There was also more of a structure to Team Ireland this year and Brendan McDaid was here this week, watching me swing it. I got on the putting system and Carton House recently, which also helped me a huge deal.”
Walker Cup star Caldwell, 24, bogeyed four of his first five holes but birdied the sixth and seventh and then parred his way home to earn his card with nothing to spare after a closing 74.
He said: “I asked refereed on the 18th what the mark was and he said he was virtually certain it was going to be six-under. So I hit a driver and a six-iron to 30 feet and it was one fo the most anxious two putts I have ever had. I am delighted.
“Nothing really prepares you for this and the hard work starts now. I am delighted that I have got the job done and I believe I am good enough to make it. But I am going to have to work very hard before the season starts. If I can just have a bit more belief in myself it augurs well.”
McGeady felt the damage was done by a fifth round 74 and a horrid three-hole spell on the front nine yesterday, where he dropped four shots in three holes.
“I pulled five iron into a bunker at the last and that was that,” McGeady said. “I thought I had missed by a couple to be honest and the damage was really done in round five. That really hurt me.
“I had a bad spell early on and bogeyed fourth, put a four iron into water at the fifth and then double bogey the sixth, where I was plugged in bunker and couldn’t get it out the first time.
“I came back well but that stretch from the fourth to the sixth was the killer and I probably knew I was one too many. It is obviously disappointing.”
The recently married Derry man will head off on 10-day honeymoon cruise to Tahiti next week, confident that he can get a dozen starts on the main tour next year.
“I will have Category 13 status and hopefully I can get 10 or 15 events. I’ll try to play some of the early ones,” he said.
Sweden’s Oskar Henningsson hit a 69 to take the top card by four shots on 21 under par with Royal County Down’s Simon Thornton earningshis Challenge Tour card after a 71 left him tied 54th on level par.
More than 900 hopefuls entered at the preliminary stage, but that number was whittled down to just 32 jubilant souls on the last day.
Both Henningsson and his 31 fellow graduates will now progress to The European Tour after the six-round examination came to a close on another day of high drama at PGA Golf de Catalunya in Girona, Spain.
Henningsson again produced some mesmerising golf to finish on 21 under par and so take the title by four shots from Australia’s Wade Ormsby and Spain’s Carlos Del Moral, whose late charge was not quite enough to take the €18,595 first prize.
The Swede, who is the first man to come through all three stages and win the Final Stage, said: “It’s a fantastic feeling to achieve this. It has been my main goal for the whole season, so to come here and actually win the Final Stage is amazing. I didn’t really think about winning the tournament, which is really a bonus, but it feels great.
“I think my eagle on the seventh was really the key moment in me winning, but I did feel really comfortable before that. In fact, I didn’t have any nerves at all today – not even on the first tee.
“To be the first guy to win the Qualifying School coming through all three stages in a great achievement, and it will give me a lot confidence going into the new season. I feel well prepared to go out on the main Tour and make an impression, so I’m delighted to have earned my card.”
Henningsson’s joy was shared by amongst others England’s John Mellor, who leapt into the top 30 on the back of a round of 68, which was bettered only by a 67 from Hoey, who will join him in The Race to Dubai.
Mellor, who has suffered with a series of injuries in recent years, said: “I’m delighted, especially given everything I’ve been through in the last couple of years. It makes it all worthwhile, and shows that I do still belong out here.”
Amongst the players who scraped through on six under par was Italy’s Federico Colombo, who only turned professional last week.
Colombo was one of eight players to emerge successfully through all three rounds. As well as Colombo and Henningsson, Northern Ireland starlet Caldwell, Tartan Tour Number One Chris Doak, Scottish amateur sensation Callum Macaulay, Sweden’s Ake Nilsson, and rising stars Danny Willet and Chris Wood all managed to successfully negotiate all three stages, which started back in September.
For much of the day Willett and Wood were locked in a private duel with one another near the top of the leaderboard, with Willett eventually prevailing over his friend and compatriot by one shot.
The youngster will now test himself against some of the world’s best players on The 2009 European Tour International Schedule.
Willett said: “It feels good – very good. I’ve played pretty scrappily over the past two days, but I’ve got myself a European Tour card, which is what I came here for. I’m looking forward to a few days off, because it’s been a long couple of weeks. Then I’ll get down to some serious practice in preparation for the two events in South Africa before Christmas.”
Wood, the winner of the Silver Medal at this year’s Open Championship, added: “I’ve worked really hard for this so I feel like I deserve everything I’ve achieved, but this does cap a pretty amazing year for me. I wouldn’t swap The Open for this or this for The Open – I would take both! At the time The Open was as good as golf can get, but knowing I have a full year on the Tour ahead of me is just as good. I’ll enjoy tonight now – the pressure is off at last. It’s just a horrible week with all the pressure and everything that comes with it – I never want to come back here again!”
Inevitably the day was interspersed with tales of woe, chief among them that of Michael McGeady, who bogeyed the last hole to drop to five under par and so miss out on the potential riches on offer in The Race to Dubai.
The same could be said of Germany’s Dennis Kupper and Spain’s Carl Suneson, both of whom started the day in the top 30 but subsequently dropped out after the pair carded rounds of 75.
England’s James Morrison was also left to rue dropping four shots in his final four holes to fall back from seven under to three under par.
Morrison will now return to Challenge Tour duty, whilst Henningsson and co can look forward to rubbing shoulders with the likes of World Number Two Sergio Garcia of Spain.
Golf is a cruel game at times, and the Qualifying School – Final Stage is perhaps the cruellest tournament of them all.