Bjorn wins Johnnie Walker at 5th playoff hole
GLENEAGLES, Scotland — Denmark's Thomas Bjorn held his nerve in a five-man sudden-death playoff to win the Johnnie Walker Championship on Sunday, triumphing at the fifth extra hole to maintain his remarkable resurgence this year.
In one of the most dramatic finishes of the season, Bjorn birdied the par-5 No. 18 — for the third straight time in the shootout — to shrug off plucky South African George Coetzee and claim his second victory on the European Tour in 2011.
Austria's Bernd Wiesberger, Spain's Pablo Larrazabal and England's Mark Foster were eliminated one by one from a tense and energy-sapping playoff at Gleneagles that lasted more than 90 minutes and was played in cold and windy conditions. All five players had finished at 11-under 277.
Foster, the joint overnight leader, squandered a three-shot lead with seven holes to play, bogeying the 18th for an even 72 when all he needed was a par to win. It took the event to the European Tour's first five-way playoff in 19 years.
Emboldened by a superb season in which he won the Qatar Masters in February and finished fourth at last month's British Open, Bjorn, who shot a final-round 69, sealed the 12th victory of his career after a sensational 7-iron approach to the fifth extra hole from 135 yards.
"The way I played the last three playoff holes, I can't be more proud of what I did," said Bjorn, who collected a $380,000 winner's check. "That 7 iron was probably one of the best golf shots I've ever hit."
It also secured another victory this year for a player over 40, following wins by Ernie Els (South African Open), Thomas Levet (French Open) and Darren Clarke (British Open), and lifted Bjorn 11 places in the rankings to No. 59.
"It's the year of the over-40s," he said. "When there's so many young players coming through, it's nice to go out there and feel like you can still compete. It gives you a boost, that I might be 40 but that it's not over yet."
However, it was yet another blow for the 36-year-old Foster, who described himself on Saturday as a "serial runner-up."
Beginning the final round tied for a three-shot lead with Spain's Ignacio Garrido, Foster exited at the fourth playoff hole — leaving him to rue a failure to wrap up the title when he drove into the deep rough at the last hole and landed next to a tree. After two hacks out of the rough, he couldn't get up and down.
A final-day meltdown was nothing new to Foster, who led or shared the lead in three previous tournaments this year — the French Open, the BMW International and the Scottish Open — without going on to win. His last win came eight years ago, at the Dunhill Championship in South Africa when he won a six-man playoff.
"It's just a game of fractions," Foster said. "I honestly felt like I made a good swing off No. 18 the first time round. I just needed a break."
On the fifth hole of the playoff, the 112th-ranked Coetzee — who finished with rounds of 66, 67 and 67 after opening with a 77 — was always playing catch-up following his drive into the left rough. He sent his third shot within 20 feet but couldn't drain the birdie attempt, leaving Bjorn the simple task of putting out.
"Thomas did unbelievably well," Coetzee said. "I can't complain. I wasn't even looking like making the cut at one point."
Larrazabal — this year's BMW International winner in Munich — and Wiesberger both shot 69s but exited the playoff at the first and second extra holes, respectively, on the PGA Centenary course that will host the 2014 Ryder Cup.
Garrido, seeking his first win in eight years like Foster, started birdie-birdie but dropped shots on four of the next six holes, slipping three shots behind Foster.
It's the first time Bjorn, a two-time Ryder Cup winner, has won two tournaments in one year on the European Tour since 1998.
"I'm delighted, it's been a brilliant week. Things are going in the right direction," Bjorn said.