2002: Leaney earns a cool 5 years

Cologne, Germany

Stephen Leaney had to overcome his nerves and the solid play of a hometown hero, but with a five-year exemption on the line, the Australian stayed cool.

Leaney staved off the jitters and German Alex Cejka Sept. 15 at the German Masters to earn his first victory since the 2000 Dutch Open.

Leaney’s prize of 500,000 euros (approximately $481,409) was the largest of his career, but the money wasn’t on his mind immediately after his fourth PGA European Tour victory.

“The exemption is the main thing,” Leaney said. “It’s great to have that under your belt.”

After finishing 11th, 33rd and 28th on the Order of Merit from 1998-2000, Leaney slipped to No. 90 last year and had just one top 10 in 19 events. But after Sunday’s victory in Cologne, Leaney vaulted to No. 10 on the 2002 Order of Merit.

“I really was quite nervous starting off the day. I wasn’t sure how I was going to play,” Leaney said. “It’s great to win again. I struggled last year and you always wonder if you can win again.

“This is a major golf tournament on what I think is a very difficult course and to shoot those scores is pretty satisfying.”

Leaney went 64-69-66-67 and qualified for the WGC–American Express Championship this week in Kilkenny, Ireland.

Also qualifying for the WGC event was Englishman Gary Evans, who climbed into the top 20 on the Order of Merit by finishing sixth at Gut Larchenhof.

Leaney’s 22-under 266 was one better than Cejka, and two better than Englishmen Paul Casey and Nick Dougherty and European Ryder Cup assistant captain Ian Woosnam of Wales.

Many of Europe’s Ryder Cup players used the tournament to tune up for their match against the United States at The Belfry in England, beginning Sept. 27.

“I had a top-10 finish (ninth) – to be honest, I was just out there practicing for the Ryder Cup,” said Scotsman Colin Montgomerie.

British Open champion Ernie Els finished 10 strokes back at 277, and PGA champion Rich Beem missed the cut.

– Staff and wire reports

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