Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell said he can’t be too disappointed after enjoying a top-15 finish on his first Challenge Tour start of the year in Sweden.
The 23-year old signed off on an encouraging week in Malmo with four birdies in a one-under round of 71, tying 15th overall with a nine-under par tally. A winner of our inaugural Irish Golfer Shootout last year, Purcell banked €2,532 for the finish and after a barren spell in terms of competitive golf of late, he was focussed on the positives ahead of Wednesday’s starting Dormy Open.
“It went pretty well considering it’s been a long few months back home,” said Purcell. “We haven’t had much competition and it’s only my third event this year so I started off pretty nicely for the first two rounds, got myself in a good position and just a few more mistakes on the weekend, other than that I can’t be too disappointed.”
“I actually played quite well overall this week, I just made a triple-bogey on Saturday which kind of took the wind out of my sails. Around the greens I wasn’t chipping it as close as I normally would but apart from that I was pleased. My approach play has been really good this week. I’ve really worked on picking targets into greens and staying away from pins that are quite treacherous so I stuck to my game-plan well.”
At the head of affairs, Craig Howie showcased an incredible display of front-running to secure an overwhelming seven-stroke victory and his first European Challenge Tour title at the Range Servant Challenge by Hinton Golf.
The 26-year-old Scot took a three-shot lead into the final round at Hinton Golf Club and he never looked like being caught as he posted a six under par round of 66 to reach 22-under par, seven strokes clear of Denmark’s Marcus Helligkilde who finished second on 15-under par following a closing round of 67.
Howie opened with a birdie and a bogey in his first two holes before an eagle at the par five fourth hole settled the nerves and put further breathing space between himself and the chasing pack. Another birdie at the eighth saw him make the turn with a six stroke lead, before adding a further three birdies on the back nine to see out victory and move to second place on the Road to Mallorca Rankings.
“I’m absolutely buzzing,” he said. “I’ve worked really hard for this so it’s really satisfying.
“I don’t think any lead is comfortable until you finish it off. I just tried to play my own game and with a few holes to go I knew I had a lead of at least three or four shots, so I was just plodding my way round and making sure I wasn’t dropping any shots, and that was good enough.
“Every day I tried to minimise mistakes, I think I only made two bogeys all week, which was really important. I probably putted better than most people did this week. The putter was working really well, so that was probably the biggest reason why the margin was so big.
“I’ve been trending. My game has been really good but I’ve just not been able to string four rounds together. I played three really good rounds and one poor one every week in South Africa, so I knew it wasn’t far away.”
The Scotsman is attached to compatriot and Major winner Paul Lawrie’s management company and, after securing victory in Malmö, Howie paid tribute to the 1999 Open Champion’s influence.
“Paul’s been great,” he said. “When I first signed with his management company, he brought in a couple of sponsors that helped me play. I was able to play with a bit more freedom, which was huge.
“Just on the side, he’s always there to contact if I need to speak to him. He’s helped me with some short game stuff, which is pretty invaluable. You don’t get a nickname like Chippie if you’re not pretty handy around the greens. He’s been great, there’s been a lot of people who have helped and Paul is one of them.”
Three-time Challenge Tour winner Espen Kofstad, from Norway, finished third on 14 under par, while Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson, Frenchman Jeong weon Ko, Germany’s Hurly Long and Denmark’s Niklas Nørgaard Møller shared fourth place on 13 under par.
Poland’s Mateusz Gradecki, Swede Anton Karlsson and Denmark’s Nicolai Kristensen completed the top ten, sharing eighth place on 12 under par.
South African Wilco Nienaber still leads the Road to Mallorca Rankings following his Dimension Data Pro-Am victory, with Howie second and runner-up at Fancourt Golf Estate Henric Sturehed sitting in third position.
The Road to Mallorca now remains in Sweden for a second week, with the Dormy Open taking place at Österåkers Golfklubb, near Stockholm, from Wednesday May 19 – Saturday May 22.