Two bogeys in his last three holes might have cost Simon Thornton €53,800 but the Newcastle professional’s was still pleased to add another notch to his belt in terms of experience as he finished tied for eighth behind a fast-finishing David Lynn in the Portugal Masters at Oceânico Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura.
On a day when an emotional Justin Walters finished second to keep his card just a fortnight after the death of his mother and Chris Doak shared eighth with Thornton to keep his playing rights, Lynn came from six shots back to a snatch a one-shot victory with an inspired final round 63 and give his Ryder Cup hopes a massive boost.
Thornton, who was tied for second overnight, just two strokes behind Paul Waring, made two birdies and two birdies on the front nine before following birdies at the 12th and 15th with bogeys at the 16th and 17th.
His 71 earned him a cheque for €41,200 when three closing pars would have given him a four-way tie for third with Waring (71), Stephen Gallacher (66) and Bernd Wiesberger (67) worth €95,000.
But having only established himself on tour in June by winning the dual ranking event at St Omer, Thornton was pleased to end his season with a top 10 in his 10th start as a full European Tour member, moving up nine spots to 127th in the Race to Dubai with earnings this year of €176,688.
“I suppose I have to be happy overall,” said Thornton who failed to get up and down at the 16th and then three-putted the 17th for those late bogeys.
“It was a bit disappointing there the last three holes but I played some good shots and was still in there contending at the end, so yeah, happy enough.”
Thornton was pleased to improve on his performance in the Italian Open, when he led at halfway, went out in the penultimate group on Sunday but trailed home tied for 16th in the end.
“As I said yesterday, I learned about it and this time dragged it out a wee bit longer to three holes from the end,” Thornton added. “I thought 18-under would be the winning score but 63 is a great score in that wind. It’s very tricky today and obviously it depends with some of the greens firming-up. Some of the greens were very, very firm.”
After an excellent two-putt birdie from more than 100 feet at the 12th, Thornton came to 13th needing to play the last five holes in three under to catch Lynn, who finished 90 minutes before the leaders.
In the end he missed a good birdie chance at the 14th, recovered that shot by holing a monster putt at the 15th but then dropped those two shots coming home on greens that were firm and difficult to judge.
“If I could have holed a couple of more putts on that stretch certainly I’d have been right up there at the top,” he said of the chances he had from the 13th to the 15th.
“The three putt on the 17th was unbelievable. Every other green downhill has been slowish – okay, that was firmer and fairer but you can’t risk not getting it to the hole. That went 10 feet past.
“Overall it’s a good finish to the season and I’m given the momentum now for next year, knowing I can compete and that I am capable of giving myself chances.”
Resident in Co Down for 15 years, Thornton was watched by his wife Ciara and plans to spend the next few months at home with their two young children before hitting the ground running next years.
“I’ve got a schedule sort of halfway up,” he said. “We’ll just keep going and see what it brings. I’ve got two events for the 2014 season in South Africa in November and then come back home. It’s been good. At the beginning of the year I could have been playing Challenge Tour still.
“I’m looking forward to play the three Desert Swing events in the New Year. They’re all new to me so I might go out there the a wee bit beforehand. I’ve got a chance and have to take advantage of it now. I’ll go to South Africa and then get back after Christmas, get out early.”
While Thornton’s 2013 season is over, there is still work to be done for David Higgins and Peter Lawrie, who are both outside the Top 110 in the Race to Dubai who keep their cards following next week’s Perth International in Australia.
While Lawrie missed the cut and slipped from 111th to 114th in the money list, Higgins was frustrated to end up tied for 57th on five under after a final round 71.
A cheque for €5,700 meant he fell one spot to 115th in the pecking order and now leads a top 20 finish in Perth with Lawrie almost certainly needing a top 30 at worst.
Paul McGinley chipped in from 40 yards for an eagle two at the 15th and holed a good par putt at the last for a 70 that left him tied 51st on six under and while he’s happy for Thornton, he feels for Lawrie and Higgins.
“I played okay but didn’t play great and of the four days, today was probably the worst I played but overall it’s been a good week and I’ve enjoyed it” McGinley said. “The scoring has been red hot an unless you shoot in the mid 60s it’s hard to make ground.
“I’m not disappointed as I did play well but then not being a big hitter you are at a disadvantage as it is a big-hitters course or you putt extremely well and I didn’t do either this week.”
“I don’t know Simon particularly well and he’s having a good run. A little bit of confidence there is the difference between him and Peter.
“This time last year, Simon was struggling and this year is it’s role reversal. Simon is going through a real purple patch and obviously Peter is struggling, but that’s the swings and roundabouts of professional golf.”
Lynn ended a nine year title drought in stunning style, carding an eight under par final round of 63 to win by one.
The 39 year old, whose only previous victory came in the 2004 KLM Open, started the final day six shots off the lead but stormed into contention with early birdies and finished with three gains in the last five holes to set an 18 under par target.
It proved an unreachable total as Lynn’s rivals fell away, with only Walters coming close thanks to a 65.
“It’s your dream to win,” said Lynn. “That’s what we’re out here for. I’ve just been patient. I’ve knocked on the door a lot of times. I’ve had a lot of good results and been quite consistent and to make the breakthrough again is very emotional. It’s a great feeling to do it again.”
South African Walters’ performance was all the more remarkable given that his mother died a fortnight ago. Knowing his card was not secure for 2014, he birdied four in a row from the 14th before rolling in a 40-foot putt for par at the last.
“I just kind of felt my mum over that putt and I asked her for some help,” said the Challenge Tour graduate. “I couldn’t believe it. It was a special moment.
“I’ve spent the whole year worrying and every week that went by felt like it was slipping away and it wasn’t really happening and I was getting more tense. Then tragedy struck and it put everything into perspective. She took that worry with her and it freed me up.”
Lynn’s victory, for which he earned €333,330 moves him to 43rd in The Race to Dubai and almost certainly guarantees him a place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, for which the top 60 qualify.
Guaranteed a boost from 52nd into the world’s top 40, his win is also a buge boost to his Ryder Cup hopes and he knows that skipper McGinley is keeping a close eye on his progress.
“Paul spoke to me, I think at Sawgrass this year. He basically said, well done, keep it going, you’re very much on my radar,” Lynn said. “And that was nice of him to come and say that.
“I played with him at the Dunhill and he said so me really nice things when we were going around just about my game in general. It’s nice to hear it from someone like Paul. Obviously, yeah, this is a great start for The Ryder Cup, but The Ryder Cup is a million miles away, in my eyes, at the moment.
“I’m just going to try to concentrate on playing golf and let it take care of itself. The closer it gets to the finishing line, the more aware I’m going to become of it.
“It’s something I would l ike to do. I think my thoughts are I would love to be playing in a Ryder Cup and have my golf game with me, which a lot of players say that it’s a terrible environment to be if you’re not feeling good about your game.
“Obviously if you can build yourself towards that — if you qualify for a Ryder Cup, you’re obviously playing well. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
While Lynn jumped 61 spots in the money list to 43rd, Rory McIlroy slipped to 60th but is guaranteed a cheque in the no-cut BMW Masters in Shanghai in a fortnight.
However, Padraig Harrington is now 72nd after being forced to skip Portugal in order to defend the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda on Monday and Tuesday.
The three-time major winner is projected to slip out of the world’s top 100 for the first time for 14 years on Monday but he can still qualify for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship as he has qualified for the BMW Masters and looks certain to get a start in the Turkish Airlines Open, which is the third leg of the four-event Final Series.
As things stand, just three Irishman are on track to make the top 60 and qualify for the season-ending event in Dubai - Graeme McDowell (second), Shane Lowry (31st) and McIlroy (60th).
Portugal Masters, final scores
266 D Lynn (Eng) 65 65 73 63,
267 J Walters (RSA) 69 63 69 66,
268 S Gallacher (Sco) 70 67 65 66, B Wiesberger (Aut) 66 65 70 67, P Waring (Eng) 67 63 67 71,
269 J Donaldson (Wal) 65 68 66 70, H Otto (RSA) 66 64 69 70,
270 S Thornton (Irl) 65 69 65 71, R Derksen (Ned) 69 68 67 66, P Larrazábal (Esp) 69 67 64 70, C Doak (Sco) 67 64 69 70, R Fisher (Eng) 67 66 71 66,
271 S Jamieson (Sco) 66 73 60 72, M Kaymer (Ger) 68 68 68 67,
272 N Colsaerts (Bel) 68 67 67 70, M Baldwin (Eng) 67 66 69 70,
273 V Dubuisson (Fra) 67 67 72 67, F Molinari (Ita) 68 72 63 70, R Green (Aus) 71 69 68 65, A Wall (Eng) 68 68 69 68, M Siem (Ger) 66 72 69 66,
274 S Hansen (Den) 66 72 70 66, A Quiros (Esp) 65 67 68 74, L Slattery (Eng) 71 66 70 67, F Andersson Hed (Swe) 67 71 68 68,
275 T Fleetwood (Eng) 67 69 71 68, E De La Riva (Esp) 69 71 66 69, R Rock (Eng) 71 68 72 64, C Wood (Eng) 66 71 67 71, R Wattel (Fra) 71 67 67 70, S Benson (Eng) 67 72 70 66, M Kieffer (Ger) 65 71 72 67, A Kaleka (Fra) 72 65 68 70, R Coles (Eng) 67 71 64 73, J Campillo (Esp) 69 68 69 69, E Pepperell (Eng) 67 72 72 64, R Bland (Eng) 69 71 70 65,
276 M Tullo (Chi) 66 70 71 69, R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 71 66 69 70, R Gonzalez (Arg) 72 68 65 71, P Lawrie (Sco) 69 66 73 68, T Lewis (Eng) 70 67 68 71, F Aguilar (Chi) 65 70 70 71, T Aiken (RSA) 71 69 70 66, J Lara (Esp) 67 69 66 74,
277 G Mulroy (RSA) 70 69 68 70, A Sullivan (Eng) 66 74 66 71, S Kjeldsen (Den) 69 65 71 72, J Quesne (Fra) 66 69 71 71, A Noren (Swe) 70 68 69 70,
278 D Howell (Eng) 69 68 71 70, J Van Zyl (RSA) 69 67 74 68, P McGinley (Irl) 71 66 71 70, J Luiten (Ned) 68 69 73 68, M Madsen (Den) 71 68 67 72, D Horsey (Eng) 67 69 73 69,
279 D Drysdale (Sco) 71 68 69 71, M Jiménez (Esp) 71 69 69 70, T Björn (Den) 74 63 72 70, G Fdez-Castaño (Esp) 69 67 71 72, G Storm (Eng) 65 72 72 70, D Higgins (Irl) 71 68 69 71,
280 A Cañizares (Esp) 67 68 71 74, A Dodt (Aus) 72 66 69 73, R Jacquelin (Fra) 71 66 67 76, E Kofstad (Nor) 72 67 70 71, D Willett (Eng) 69 67 69 75,
281 A Hartø (Den) 69 71 71 70, J Sjöholm (Swe) 71 67 75 68,
282 R Ramsay (Sco) 70 70 70 72, G Havret (Fra) 70 70 69 73,
287 C Paisley (Eng) 71 69 71 76.