Despite a bogey-free final round that saw him jump 26 places up the leaderboard and included a hole-in-one, Dermot McElroy will ultimately leave the Matchroom Tour Championship disappointed after missing out on a Challenge Tour card for next season.
The Ballymena man came into the week at the PGA EuroPro Tour finale at Slaley Hall fifth in the Order of Merit, knowing he needed a good week to maintain his place and earn promotion to the second-tier for next season.
However, he gave himself too much to do after rounds of 76 and 78 left him 10-over heading into his final round and, although his seven-under 65 was two strokes better than anyone else on day three, it wasn’t enough to keep him inside the top-five. Instead, his place went to winner Jamie Rutherford, whose final round 68 took him to eight-under, which was enough to earn him a one-shot victory over England’s Dan Brown and Scots Calum Fyfe and Jack McDonald and earn him that Challenge Tour spot.
McElroy was always going to be in a tough spot given the winner of the Tour Championship earned £25,000, which would be enough to jump the vast majority of players into the top-five on the Order of Merit and would knock him out as fifth on the season standings. He gave it a brave go, however, despite entering the final day more or less out of the running, and the 28-year-old will be proud he got as far up the leaderboard as he did, finishing in a tie for 24th at three-over for the week.
And it is understood he will not go away completely empty-handed either, as he should earn Category 20 membership on the Challenge Tour for finishing seventh in the Order of Merit, which will entitle him to a few spot starts here and there next season. To add to that, McElroy also won an Apple TV and Apple Watch for his hole-in-one, the Northern Irishman draining his tee shot on the 181-yard par-three fifth as he made a late push up the rankings.
Overall, though, he will reflect on a week where a poor first two rounds cost him any chance of securing better playing rights next season as he was always playing catch-up following a four-over opening round and then even more so when he followed it up with a six-over second round. But on the back nine of his final round of the season he sparked into life, making the turn in two-under after birdies at the 13th and 14th – he started on the 10th – and then catching fire on the more scorable front nine. Birdies dropped on the second and third before a perfect shot on the fifth ended up in the hole for an incredible ace that renewed hope that maybe a late surge would be enough to break him back into that top-five.
Unfortunately he would come up just short. Although one final birdie fell at the eighth, a 65 was only enough to bring him just inside the top-25 on the week – which earned him just £900 – and left him two places too low on the Order of Merit. It means McElroy will spend the majority of next season on the EuroPro Tour again, although he will have the comfort of the occasional Challenge Tour start, and he will be confident that after this near miss he will be able to go one step further next time.
Meanwhile, it was ecstasy for Rutherford, whose one-shot win not only gained him a place on the Challenge Tour next season but also saw him finish the year as the Order of Merit winner on the EuroPro Tour. The Englishman held his nerve in the final round and had a run of four birdies to start his back nine to thank for a four-under 68 that set the clubhouse mark at eight-under, although a bogey on the 18th left him with a nervy wait to see if it would be enough. Fyfe and McDonald both had chances to force a play-off if they managed to par the final hole, but both choked and recorded bogeys to settle for a share of second with Brown, handing Rutherford the win and the overall title as well.
Missing out wasn’t to matter for Fyfe, who finished third in the Order of Merit regardless, with the Scotsman making the step up to the Challenge Tour alongside Rutherford, Mitch Waite, John Parry and Brown, whose final round 70 took him up to fourth in the season money list.