Fast-finishing Caldwell tops the Irish contingent in Abu Dhabi

Mark McGowan

Jonathan Caldwell (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

After three consecutive rounds of level-par, Jonathan Caldwell fired a closing six-under 66 to leapfrog Conor Purcell and take top Irish honours at the Abu Dhabi Challenge.

Having made the cut on the number and needing late help from the final groups to ensure a weekend tee time, Caldwell caught fire in the final round, carding six birdies and an eagle on his way to shooting 66 and jumping up more than 30 spots on the leaderboard.

Due to his lowly 54-hole leaderboard position, Caldwell began his final round on the back nine as tournament organisers opted for a two-tee start, and two birdies and one bogey on his opening nine holes suggested it would be more of the same as he’d hovered round the level-par mark all week.


That all changed on the front side, however, with a birdie at the first taking him to -2 for the week before the Clandeboye man eagled the third. He’d then make back-to-back birdies on four and five to play the three-hole stretch in four-under. A bogey at seven halted the charge, but he’d bounce back with another birdie at the eighth before a par at the last saw him sign for -6 for the tournament and a tie for 35th overall.

Conor Purcell began the day in a tie for 14th at -8, but the Portmarnock pro was out of sorts all day, failing to resister a single birdie and carding bogeys at four and seven bore adding two more on the closing pair. The round comes as a bitter disappointment with a strong top-10 finish within his grasp, ultimately ending the week tied for 43rd.

Niall Kearney’s round of +1 saw him end the week at level-par and a tie for 63rd, while Ruaidhri McGee, who started the day tied with Kearney, shot one higher and ended T65.

The event was won by Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia who eagled the final hole in dramatic fashion after posting a six under par final round of 66.

Gouveia, who started the day four shots off the lead, climbed into contention with a chip-in eagle on the eighth hole before birdieing the 17th and eagling the last to get to 19 under par for the week and secure a sixth Challenge Tour title.

On a pulsating final day, where five different players held the lead, it was Gouveia who triumphed, finishing two shots ahead of England’s Tom Lewis and Joshua Grenville-Wood, South African Wilco Nienaber and Spaniard Ivan Cantero Gutierrez who shared second on 17 under par.

Gouveia, who topped the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2015, was pleased to rediscover his form in Abu Dhabi and return to the winner’s circle.

“It was a crazy day.” he said. “I didn’t feel like I brought my best game off the tee, but I managed myself really well. I knew the pins were going to be tucked away and my strategy was really good. I holed some nice putts and I’m so happy to finish on top.

“I tried to focus on finishing the round strong because in golf you never know what can happen. It was a special way to finish, and I’m delighted right now.”

The 31-year-old, who will tee it up at the UAE Challenge next week, admits his experience of winning Challenge Tour events in the past helped him get over the line.

“I have done a lot of mental preparation recently and I have managed my nerves a lot better,” he said. “I have been using the pressure as fuel coming down the stretch.

“I had a good pre-season, and I knew my game was heading in the right direction. I didn’t start the season great, but I had five weeks of very good preparation for this event, and I felt ready to compete at the top of the leaderboard again.

“I’m going to play next week on the Challenge Tour and after this win I have gained so much confidence.”

Zimbabwean Benjamin Follett-Smith finished in sixth place on 15 under par, while Italy’s Renato Paratore and Dutchman Lars van Meijel – who birdied seven of the final nine holes to shoot a nine under par round of 63 – shared seventh.


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