Moynihan on cloud nine despite Andalucia Costa del Sol Match Play defeat
Mount Wolseley's touring professional, Gavin Moynihan 

Mount Wolseley's touring professional, Gavin Moynihan 

Mount Wolseley's Gavin Moynihan all but secured his Challenge Tour card when he picked up €22,000 and jumped from 81st to eighth in the Road to Oman rankings following his runner-up finish in the Andalucia Costa del Sol Match Play 9.

Exactly 601 days after the sudden death of his coach and mentor Hugh Jackson, the 22-year old from The Island went down by 2 and 1 to England's Aaron Rai in the final.

But after a difficult start to his professional career, the two-time Walker Cup player was more than pleased with his week at La Cala Resort.

Forced to come through an 11-man playoff just to make the matchplay draw, Moynihan's hard work with new coach Shane O'Grady paid off in spades as he built on his recent PGA Europro Tour win at Close House with some clutch play in the mano a mano showdowns in Andalucía.

A 3 and 1 winner over Scott Fernandez in round one, he had to go to the fourth tie hole, the 13th, to beat Pablo Martin in round two.

He then beat the talented Swede Marcus Kinhult 2 and 1 in Sunday's quarter-finals and England's Charlie Ford 3 and 1 in the semi-finals before going down fighting to an inspired Rai in the decider.

"I was bogey free for the whole matchplay, which was great," said Moynihan, who lost the first two holes to birdies by Rai but then birdied the third and fourth to draw level.

When 22-year-old Englishman holed a 25-foot putt to halve the fifth, the momentum clearly turned his way.

Rai birdied the sixth and seventh to go two up with two to play and when Moynihan narrowly missed a birdie putt on the eighth, Rai was left with a five-foot putt for his second victory in two months, which his duly holed.

Moynihan was disappointed not to win his maiden Challenge Tour title but having started the season without little status on the Challenge Tour before winning on the PGA Europro Tour just two weeks ago, he was thrilled to all but secure his full playing rights on Europe's second tier tour for the rest of the season.

"It's been coming," said Moynihan, who is eighth in the Race to Oman with 23,720 points. "The win a few weeks ago was great. But I knew I needed a good week on this tour to get more starts. That was the goal. 

"I don't quite have a full card yet but I will get into a lot more events. That's the biggest bonus after today. I will be close to Top 10 in the Race to Oman after this and I pretty mich have my card."

Moynihan's second place finish earned him a place in this week's D+D REAL Czech Challenge and he's looking forward now to concentrating on the Challenge Tour, which awards European Tour cards to the Top 15 in the final Race to Oman standings.

"The game has been good for the last six weeks so it was great to be able to reap the rewards on this tour," Moynihan said.

"Last year I was a bit off my swing and my confidence was a bit low. But since I  started working with Shane O'Grady, everything has just picked up a small bit. 

"My driving has been great for the last six months and my iron play is the biggest thing that has improved. My mid-to-long irons are very good and I am getting my wedge play back to where it normally is. 

"My putting has improved a bit too so everything has improved slightly which makes a huge difference."

Black Bush based O'Grady has had considerable success with Leona and Lisa Maguire and Moynihan loves his simple approach.

"With Shane, it is just very simple things," he said. "I am just getting my swing back to where it was when I was 14 or 15, which sounds crazy. So a big hat's off to Shane for getting me back on track."

As for losing a close friend and mentor in the late Huge Jackson, Moynihan said: "Jacko passed away literally two weeks after the Walker Cup and it was just a shock. I had only been talking to him 12 hours earlier. 

"It was a tough six months but since I have gone to Shane it has been all positives and I am delighted."

Moynihan pipped Dermot McElroy for his maiden professional win at Close House on the PGA Europro Tour and has managed to ride that momentum.

Now the goal is to build on today's result which came on an invitation.

"From the third week of June there is a category for top 45 who are not already exempt and from that week to Rolex Trophy, I can play every event I enter," he said. 

"I will get two-thirds of the season, which is great. The money is great too and will help me play a few events. There is also a good group of Irish on the Challenge Tour and around 50 or 60 percent of the guys are familiar faces from the amateur scene over the years. 

"I didn't play badly at all in the final so it doesn't hurt as much as it might have. There is not much I could have done differently. Maybe the first hole, where my chip came out dead. 

"If you'd watched it, you'd have said it was a joke what Aaron did. At the start of the week, I was happy to get an invite so to come second — never mind the quarters or semis — is a huge bonus. 

"After today I am going to concentrate solely on the Challenge Tour and get as high up the rankings as I can.  

"Chubby Chandler was on to me every day, sending texts and voices messages. 

"I was with him in Turkey recently and he was happy to see the results coming. I know I can compete out here so it is just a matter of going out and doing it.  

"When Gary [Hurley] was having good events last year I thought, if he can do it, I can do it. 

"My ball striking was just a bit off last year, but this week it was the best it has ever been. It was class. 

"I got €22,000 and a big Happy Gilmore style cheque. It is nice to get money in the bank and it will keep me going for a while."

As for Rai, the 22-year-old started the second day of match play with a 2 and 1 victory over France’s Robin Sciot-Siegrist, before facing his fellow countryman Tom Murray in a finely-balanced semi-final – which Rai eventually claimed two up.

A winner already this year, Rai is well-placed to claim the three wins needed to guarantee automatic promotion to the European Tour – something he is well aware of.

Aaron Rai. Picture: European Tour

Aaron Rai. Picture: European Tour

“It is an incredible start and obviously puts you in a very good position for the rest of the season,” said Rai, who also won the season-opening Barclays Kenya Open and tops the Race to Oman standings with 72,625 points from four starts.

“I think to win full stop is also incredible, no matter when it is in the year. It is not too different from my first victory as a win is still a win and it doesn’t happen very often in a golfer’s career.

“I think the format this week was very good. It was short enough to make it interesting to watch, but long enough to give yourself a chance of recovering if you don’t get off to the best of starts – so it’s a very good mix.

“I obviously got off to a very good start in the final, but that was only two holes in, and you have to stay focused as seven holes is still a long way to go in this format.

“Gavin came back at me, and even when I went 1up at the sixth, I still felt as though there was a long way to go.

“It was a really close match, we birdied six of the eight holes between us, so I knew I couldn’t make any slip-ups over the next few holes.

“When I saw Gavin’s putt just miss on the eighth I felt pretty confident. I knew it was for the match, but I just managed to keep my cool.”

Elsewhere in Andalucía Ford beat Murray 2 and 1 to take third place, Sciot-Siegrist beat Kinhult 3 and 2 to claim fifth place, while Matthew Baldwin swept aside Oliver Lindell 3 and 2 to finish in seventh place.

Rai’s victory on the Spanish coast takes him to top spot in the Road to Oman Rankings, with America’s Julian Suri sitting in second place.