Disappointing final rounds for both Ruaidhri McGee and John Murphy saw them slide down the leaderboard on the final day of the Empordà Challenge in Girona, Spain.
McGee started the day in seventh at six-under-par with an outside chance at pushing up for the win despite a dreadful opening round, but a one-over 71 saw him fall back to five-under and into a share of 20th.
Meanwhile, Murphy was a shot worse off both in where he started his day and his fourth round score as a 72 saw him fall to three-under-par and down to tied-30th having begun the final day just outside the top-10.
Instead, the win went to Scotland’s Liam Johnston, whose three-under 67 in the final round was enough to hand him a two-shot victory over England’s Todd Clements at Empordà Golf.
But for McGee and Murphy it will be a case of what if as they both couldn’t capitalise on excellent positions as, while neither were likely to come through and win the tournament, they were hoping to secure their best finishes of the season.
McGee, who set a course record 62 on Friday, had started so well with back-to-back birdies to spark hopes of a Sunday run, but three bogeys in six holes around the turn torpedoed his chances before a triple-bogey at the par-four 14th sunk him.
For Murphy, his round never even got off the ground as he failed to card a single birdie on the final day, back-to-back bogeys at the eighth and ninth the only two scores that weren’t pars as he fell outside the top-25.
Johnston, meanwhile, came from behind as two birdies and an eagle in his round took him to the top of the standings and gave him enough of a buffer that meant he could afford to bogey the par-four 17th and still have enough in reserve to win at 13-under.
Johnston, now a three-time Challenge Tour winner, had missed 16 cuts in his last 20 Road to Mallorca appearances before teeing it up in Girona this week but his perseverance paid off in style as he added the Empordà Challenge title to his 2018 victories at the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9 and the Kazakhstan Open.
“It feels pretty good. It’s actually not just pretty good, it’s incredible,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, it’s been a couple of really hard years for me recently, and even the start of this year has been tough, but I have just been persevering and working hard and I’m glad it’s finally paid off here.
“It’s nice to know that I’ve been working so hard for two years, sometimes not on the right things, but just keeping working hard, and just learning about myself.
“It’s more that I’m just happy to see that it is starting to pay off now, more than anything else. You know what the Challenge Tour is, you have to stay on the front foot, you have got to keep pushing to try to get into that top 20 and then try to finish as high up as you can. Obviously it’s nice, but I’m already thinking about the next few weeks going forwards.”
The 29-year-old navigated the final round with the poise of a seasoned winner, dropping just a single shot on the par four 17th hole, and he revealed afterwards that the first time he looked at a leaderboard was on the 18th tee, where he opted to hit a two iron.
“I didn’t look at a single leaderboard all week until the 18th tee, I knew I was up there obviously because I was in the final group today,” he said. “I just kept an eye on my score and just really tried to get to 15 under – that was my goal for today.
“I was just trying to be as aggressive as I could because the guys behind me are all so capable of shooting seven or eight under and catching up. Once I got to the 18th tee and saw I was two shots ahead it made the decision for me.
“I was thinking earlier in the round that if I was in that situation I wasn’t going to hit driver and that’s what I did – I played the two iron and then a lovely five iron onto the green and managed to get out of there with two putts.”
England’s Clements would claim solo second as four birdies and an eagle led to a five-under 65, although he may be disappointed he couldn’t launch more of a challenge on a back nine that consisted of just one of those birdies and a bogey.
It was an even more disappointing day for Sweden’s Jens Dantorp, who held a one-shot advantage heading into the final round but dropped three shots in his first eight holes and would eventually settle for a one-over 71 that left him in third at 10-under.