Peter Lawrie was close to signing for under par round on Sunday until a few stray putts undid some of his good work at the San Roque course. A great recovery after a wayward drive on the 17th hit out of bounds showed a return of confidence that bodes well for the season.
A loss of momentum could result though from a lack of events following Lawrie’s loss of European Tour playing rights which leave him with an unwanted three week break until the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco next month.
However, in the first full four rounds of the year – having missed the cut at the Tshwane Open in February and withdrawn from the Alfred Dunhill Links before Christmas – Peter Lawrie should be satisfied with his weekends’ work. The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at the K Club the next biggest event on the horizon.
As a former winner of the Open de España Lawrie was automatically exempt this weekend and his hard work during the close season was rewarded in the toughest and most demanding of conditions at Valderrama. Reuniting for the Spain trip with his swing coach Brendan McDaid, who also was on the bag, clearly delivered some additional impetus at key moments.
The weekend though belonged to Andrew Johnston who won his first European Tour title as he held off the challenge of Joost Luiten to claim the Real Club Valderrama Open de España, Hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation.
The Englishman came into the final day alongside Luiten at two over and signed for a one under par 70 to take the title by one shot and become the first man to win a European Tour event with an over par score since Justin Rose won the US Open at Merion in 2013.
It had been 20 years since a regular event had been won over par, Ian Woosnam shooting the same score to win the Scottish Open at Carnoustie in 1996, showing just how difficult a test Valderrama had been over the four days.
“I drove the ball well all week, chipped and putted well all week, I struggled a bit with my irons the first three days but I just kept going and kept digging in and then on the fourth I found something,” he said.
“I came off the course and I just started crying with the emotion of it. It’s just very surreal and I don’t think it will hit me for a few days.
“You see them winning these tournaments, and the history of it and all these names, so to put mine on there feels pretty ridiculous, really. It really does.
“Hopefully I can be one of those guys who has an incredible career like that and people are sitting here in the future going, ‘oh, Beef’s on there’. It’s pretty incredible.”
Tournament host Sergio Garcia made six birdies in his round of 67 to finish at three over, a shot ahead of defending champion James Morrison and Søren Kjeldsen.
The win completes a long journey for 27-year-old Johnston, who first made it onto The European Tour via the Challenge Tour in 2012 before a loss of form and fitness saw him lose his card.
Two wins on the Challenge Tour in 2014 saw him win the Road to Oman and now, after finishing 70th on The Race to Dubai last season, he has his breakthrough.
For Dutchman Luiten, the result is the continuation of a brilliant start to the season and hands him his fifth top ten in eight events so far this term.
Johnston bogeyed the first as those around him jostled for position, with Martin Kaymer opening up a two-shot lead over the field with a birdie on the third.
Luiten and Kaymer continued to battle it out but when Johnston hit a sensational approach to the seventh for birdie and made another gain on the next, a dropped shot from the German on the seventh meant Johnston and Luiten shared the lead at the turn.
Morrison had also turned in 34 and bogeys on the 11th from Luiten and 14th from Johnston meant there was a three-way tie for the lead. That became a four-way tie when Garcia birdied the 16th and 17th to surge into contention.
A bogey on the last saw Garcia set the clubhouse target at three over but Johnston holed a 20-footer on the 16th to move ahead and Luiten could not reel him in as he finished with seven straight pars.
Kjeldsen’s 68 handed the Dane a second straight top ten after his excellent performance at the Masters Tournament last week, while Morrison finished with a 72. Ross Fisher, Kaymer, Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Alex Noren were then at five over, a shot clear of Craig Lee.
Last season Lawrie spoke about the fears of losing his automatic playing rights for 2016:
“I thought it was going to be the end of the world if I didn’t do well and it seriously effected the way I played. This year, I realise it’s not actually the end of the world. There is life somewhere, after losing your tour card.”
“You come out here (on tour) and you feel that you’re not worthy to be out here sometimes. You’re trying as hard as you can to feel that you should be here. I know I should be here. My golf game is good enough,”
At Valderrama Lawrie’s was good enough carding rounds of 77-74-77-73 and receiving a cheque for €7,400 for a share of 53rd place.
*Peter Lawrie is sponsored by NewstalkFM