Alvaro Quiros earned a ticket back to the European Tour with victory Sunday in the $1.1 million Rocco Forte Open in Verdura, Sicily. But he had to fight hard to grab that ticket.
The long-hitting Spaniard turned what should have been a victory lap into a tense final nine holes to stagger over the finish line by defeating South Africa’s Zander Lombard in a sudden-death playoff.
Quiros earned a check for $187,000 for his seventh European Tour win, and first since the 2011 Dubai World Championship. More importantly, he earned his full European Tour card and a place in next week’s $7 million BMW PGA Championship. Lombard earned $125,000 for finishing second.
Quiros looked to be cruising toward the title when he opened the final round with four birdies in the first six holes to reach 20 under and a seven-shot lead. However, he dropped six shots between the eighth and 17th holes and returned a 2-over 73, his worst score of the week.
Quiros’ meltdown let the rest of the field back into the tournament. Lombard duly took his chances to force a playoff with a 3-under 68 to tie Quiros at 14 under.
Quiros won with a par at the second playoff hole, the 18th, after Lombard made bogey.
The win wasn’t pretty, but Quiros is on the road back after a miserable five years that saw him drop from 21st in the world to 703rd before he teed off in Italy.
“I’m very happy,” Quiros said. “Obviously it shouldn’t be like that, but at the end the result is a victory and that’s the most important thing. It’s been a little bit of a mess but the game wasn’t that bad. I didn’t have any idea how many shots I was ahead. What I knew on 18 was that I had to make a putt to tie Zander.
“It’s a strange feeling. I’m very happy but I didn’t really like how I ended up the round.”
Quiros earned a five-year European Tour exemption after his Dubai World Championship win. That ended last year, but the 34-year-old finished 134th on the money list and lost his card. He failed to get it back at the European Tour Qualifying School. Consequently, he was playing on a reduced schedule this season in bottom of the food chain events. He now has a full exemption through to the end of 2018.
Remember Lombard’s name. Sicily was his second European Tour runner-up following last year’s Joburg Open.
The South African finished runner-up to Scotland’s Bradley Neil in the 2014 Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush, but many felt he would have a better career. So far he’s proving that opinion true. The 22-year-old arrived in Sicily as the World No. 431 compared to Neil’s ranking at No. 1,362.
Lombard seems sure to notch his first win soon and join the band of good, young South African golfers.