Simon Thornton dedicated his magnificent seven under par round of 64 to his new-born son after the Irishman sealed his card for The 2012 European Tour International Schedule with the best round of the crucial final day at the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, the European Tour’s Neil Ahern and Paul Symes report.
The Newcastle player began the day right on the brink of missing out on a ticket to the elite Tour in European golf after a level par third round of 71, and the pressure was well and truly on to secure any sort of card for The European Tour.
But his star show on the final day, which gave him a tied sixth finish five shots behind winner Andrea Pavan on twelve under, meant he finsihed 12th in the final rankings, securing a category for next season on the top tier as one of the Challenge Tour’s Top-20.
The 34-year old was already celebrating before the final round began after his wife, Ciara, gave birth to their second child, a baby boy, on the evening before the third day, but laughed off suggestions that he might decide on ‘Dominic’ as a name in honour of the course where he sealed his European Tour card for the second time.
“I haven’t got a name for my son yet,” said Thornton, “I’m not sure about Dominic to be honest but the decision will probably made by my wife!
“I would like to dedicate that round to my son though, I thought something was going to be good after the third day when I played well, but then got tired.
“But when the wind picked up today and it was in my favour, I started to feel confident. I played well all week and I played the same today, I just didn’t make any mistakes like I did in previous rounds.
“It was looking tight for a while (to get into the top 20), I tried not to think about where I was but I read a little piece on the European Tour website so thanks to whoever wrote that!
“I felt horrendous on Friday though (with an illness), so to get through that and still get the card was great.”
The England-born player’s fairy-tale round started with a steady par on the tough first hole before a birdie on the third was soon followed by three consecutive birdies on the fifth, sixth and seventh to see him reach the turn with a four under par 30.
Only one birdie followed on the way home, but his piece de resistance came at the par five 11th, where his three wood approach from the fairway fell to within ten feet before holing the putt for a superb eagle.
Home hero Pavan, meanwhile, edged his final day shoot-out with Tommy Fleetwood at the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, but it was the young Englishman who ended the season as the Challenge Tour Rankings Number One, becoming the youngest winner in the 22-year history of the Tour.
On a day of high winds and even higher drama in Puglia, southern Italy, the Roman delighted the locals at San Domenico Golf, his home from home, with a one stroke victory over Fleetwood, whose runner-up finish ensured he would usurp his compatriot Sam Little at the top of the Rankings.
That scenario had looked increasingly unlikely after Fleetwood had opened with a double bogey and added a bogey at the eighth hole. But the 20 year old from Southport is made of stern stuff, picking up birdies at the 11th and 16th holes and a crucial eagle at the 15th to join Pavan on 17 under par.
Neither player’s approach shot found the 18th green, which was playing into the teeth of the wind whipping in off the Adriatic coastline.
But Pavan played a deft chip, and when Fleetwood raced his birdie attempt from the fringe of the green past the hole and missed the return, the 22 year old from Rome was left with the relatively straightforward task of holing out from four feet to take the title and, with it, the winner’s cheque for €56,650.
That moved Pavan up to second place in the Rankings behind Fleetwood, who topped the list with €148,912 – the second highest season’s earnings after Italian Edoardo Molinari in 2009.
Both men were naturally delighted, as were Sweden’s Pelle Edberg (fifth) and the English duo of Andrew Johnston (tied third) and Sam Walker (tied sixth), whose respective displays ensured that they would gatecrash the top 20 at the expense of Branden Grace, José-Filipe Lima and Anthony Snobeck. After bogeying his last two holes the unfortunate Frenchman finished in the unenviable position of 21st place, a mere €801 behind Italian Alessandro Tadini in 20th.
But both Fleetwood and Pavan were all smiles, as they contemplated life on The European Tour next season.
Fleetwood said: “It didn’t look great for me after the bogey on the eighth, and my Dad [Pete] started giving me a little bit of grief. But I had to stick in and grind out a score because winning the Challenge Tour is massive, so if that doesn’t motivate you to try your hardest, then nothing will.
“I battled through it and hit a few good shots coming home, which got me right back into it and put some pressure on Andrea. I had a rush of blood with the putt on the last, but it was great just to put myself into contention to win.
“To be crowned the best player of the year means an awful lot to me. As much as it hurts at the moment to lose I’m still pleased for Andrea, because he’s played well all week. And I’ve got to be delighted with my season overall, because at the start of the year my goal was just to finish in the top 20 of the Rankings, so to finish on top is fantastic.”
Pavan paid tribute to Fleetwood’s battling qualities, and the Italian – who is sponsored by San Domenico Golf – was rightly thrilled to have edged their duel, which seems certain to be repeated on the top tier next term.
He said: “It was really tough out there today. I didn’t really feel in control of my long game, and I struggled in the wind. It was tough to get any momentum going, but I’m very proud of the way I scrambled today, and I really putted well. I made a lot of crucial par putts, and when I holed that one on the last, it was a fantastic feeling. In the end my putting won me the tournament.
“It’s extra special to win here at San Domenico Golf, and to have so many people supporting me was fantastic. I felt like they sucked that putt in on the last! I felt very emotional at the end – to become the first Italian to win the Grand Final, and to do it at the club I’m attached to, is the best feeling in the world. I’m a very happy man.”
Johnston’s closing round of 71 was good enough to finish in a tie for third place on 14 under par, a result which moved the in-form Englishman from 27th to 15th in the final Rankings. Likewise, Edberg and Walker both carded closing rounds of 70 to climb to 18th and 16th respectively in the Rankings.
Apulia San Domenico Grand Final on the European Challenge Tour, San Domenico Golf, Puglia, Italy, par 71.
267 A Pavan (Ita) 66 65 65 71,
268 T Fleetwood (Eng) 67 61 69 71,
270 A Marshall (Eng) 67 67 68 68, A Johnston (Eng) 67 67 65 71,
271 P Edberg (Swe) 69 63 69 70,
272 S Walker (Eng) 69 67 66 70, S Tiley (Eng) 67 66 70 69, J Guerrier (Fra) 66 66 72 68, Simon Thornton (Irl) 67 70 71 64, J Campillo (Esp) 66 69 70 67,
273 F Colombo (Ita) 72 66 65 70,
274 F Praegant (Aut) 69 65 68 72, S Little (Eng) 67 68 71 68, B Hebert (Fra) 67 69 70 68,
275 C Doak (Sco) 71 65 71 68, E Dubois (Fra) 70 66 70 69, C Lloyd (Eng) 68 65 69 73, V Riu (Fra) 68 67 65 75,
276 C Lee (Sco) 69 66 70 71, C Gane (Eng) 68 65 72 71, A Tadini (Ita) 69 66 71 70, J Elson (Eng) 67 72 71 66, J Lima (Por) 69 68 66 73, R Santos (Por) 66 69 69 72,
277 J Quesne (Fra) 69 69 66 73, L Jensen (Den) 72 65 67 73,
278 M Erlandsson (Swe) 68 72 68 70, T Ferreira (RSA) 72 63 70 73, A Snobeck (Fra) 69 70 67 72,
279 C Russo (Fra) 68 68 70 73, B Grace (RSA) 70 67 68 74, P Gustafsson (Swe) 71 67 70 71,
280 A Tampion (Aus) 69 70 70 71, B Ritthammer (Ger) 69 70 70 71,
281 D Denison (Eng) 69 70 70 72, M Baldwin (Eng) 69 70 66 76, F Delamontagne (Fra) 71 70 68 72,
282 J Moul (Eng) 73 72 69 68, L Kennedy (Eng) 70 71 68 73,
283 E Kofstad (Nor) 70 69 69 75,
284 N Meitinger (Ger) 73 67 71 73,
285 K Borsheim (Nor) 72 72 71 70,
286 P Archer (Eng) 73 71 70 72, M Bothma (RSA) 71 68 75 72,
288 M Southgate (Eng) 73 73 69 73.