It was more like Valhalla than Valderrama as Scandinavian heroes Soren Kjeldsen and Robert Karlsson celebrated their moments of glory with sighs of relief rather than throaty roars.
While the diminutive Dane Kjeldsen avenged last season’s play-off defeat by clinching an impressive two-stroke victory in the weather-ravaged final edition of the Volvo Masters, Karlsson rounded off a season of incredible consistency when he became the first Swede to lift the coveted Harry Vardon Trophy.
Four men arrived at the storied Sotogrande track with a mathematical chance of winning the final edition of the Order of Merit before it is replaced by the Race to Dubai, which begins with almost indecent haste at this week’s HSBC Champions Tournament in Shanghai.
But it turned out to be a week to forget for Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Miguel Jimenez as a combination of poor weather, their own frailties and Kjeldsen’s brilliance allowed Karlsson to hang on to top spot with €297,425 to spare.
“It would have been fantastic to cap it off with a good week, but I'm not going to be ashamed about this week," said 39-year-old Karlsson, who finished a lowly 32nd in the season-ending tournament but still came out smiling at the end of a campaign that saw him clinch two victories and twelve top-10 finishes.
“In the last three and a half years I have taken myself to a new level and this is fantastic. But this has been the hardest week I've ever experienced in golf. It's one of those situations where you have it in your own hands, but not really, and your focus wanders quite a bit.”
Harrington finished second in the race for the money title after failing to clinch the top-two finish he needed to have any chance of overhauling his Ryder Cup team mate. Carrying a first round 76 like a millstone around his neck after Kjeldsen had started with a 65, the 37-year old Dubliner could hardly be disappointed by a season that yielded two magnificent Major championship victories.
“In fairness to Robert he has played very well and very consistently all year. He really deserves to win it,” Harrington conceded. “I know what this season is going to be remembered for in a week’s time or a month’s time or in a year’s time. It is the two majors I won during the summer. So I am not too worried about it.”
Harrington began the day eight strokes off the pace with five holes of his third round to complete but saw any potential charge derailed by a double bogey six at the 16th, where he was bunkered and then three-putted en route to a level par 71.
“The 16th was the killer,” said Harrington, who closed with a 68 to finish tied 13th on two-over par. “I wanted to go out and make some birdies this morning. I had chances on the 13th and 14th but the 16th was a slack hole.”
With Jimenez’s tournament over from the time he carded a second round 80, Karlsson’s biggest rival was Westwood, who needed to claim his first victory of the season to sneak past the Swede and claim the money title for just the second time.
With a round to play, the Englishman was lurking ominously in a share of second place with Sergio Garcia, just three strokes behind the eventual winner. But his challenge was undone by consecutive bogeys at the seventh and eighth and he eventually closed with a disappointing one-over par 72 that relegated him a share of fourth.
“It’s been a year of nearlys and it was nearly again,” said Westwood, who will reclaim his place in the world’s top 10 today after a five-year absence. “I didn't feel I was hitting it great all week. I wasn't straight enough, but I've played well all year and I'm pleased about being back in the top 10.”
As 33-year old Kjeldsen closed with a 71 to win by two shots on eight-under par from Anthony Wall (69) and Martin Kaymer (68), Graeme McDowell finished a remarkable season ranked a career-best fifth in the Order of Merit thanks to his share of eighth place.
“Sixth in the Order of Merit was my best ever,” McDowell said after a 67 left him four shots behind the winner. “I at least wanted to equal that.”
Darren Clarke still has another four events to play this season as he bids to regain his place in the world’s top 50 and secure his Masters invitation. But while disappointed by a share of 11th place after a closing 73, he was relieved to retain his place inside the top-15 on the Order of Merit who will contest next year’s US Open in New York.
Overall it was a mixed week for the Irish contingent with Rory McIlroy and Peter Lawrie tied for 39th place on 11-over and finishing 36th and 38th respectively in the final Order of Merit.
A World Cup appearance alongside Graeme McDowell still beckons for Paul McGinley, who was 47th on 16 over and 26th in the money list. But Damien McGrane could smile at quadruple bogey nine at the 17th as he finished the season ranked a career-best 30th in the Order of Merit, earning him the final exempt place in the Open Championship at Turnberry next July.