Gary Hurley fired four rounds under par to claim a share of 40th spot in a confidence boosting week at the Prague Golf Challenge at Prague City Golf.
The Waterford professional has endured an indifferent 2018 but returned a one-under 71 yesterday to finish an encouraging week at seven-under-par.
It could have been much better for Gary too having birdied four of six holes on the back nine before a double bogey 5 at the 16th halted his momentum. However a weekend cut made and four rounds under par to boot is definitely something on which to build with a busy schedule to come.
Only two Irishmen made the weekend cut and Clandeboye’s Jonathan Caldwell was the other and he would have been disappointed to finish with a two-over-par 74 that resigned Caldwell to a tie for 60th on three-under for the tournament.
At the top of the leaderboard, a scintillating seven-under-par final round of 65 helped Ben Stow secure his first European Challenge Tour victory by finishing on 18 under in Prague.
The Englishman posted the joint low round of the day to ensure he finished one shot clear of runner-up Joel Girrbach after beginning the day three shots off the pace.
Stow carded one birdie in his first five holes but a chip-in eagle at the sixth acted as the catalyst for success. He went on to card a further five birdies and a single blemish as he set what proved to be an unassailable target of 18 under with three groups still to return to the clubhouse.
The 26-year-old recently returned from a long-term knee injury which kept him from playing golf for a sustained period and Stow was visibly delighted after securing his maiden win on Europe’s top developmental tour.
“I played really well today and I’m so chuffed,” he said. “I’ve been looking for a win for the past two seasons on the Challenge Tour, so I’m really, really chuffed.
“I was really pleased with my long game. I’ve just come back from injury where I didn’t play golf for four months. It’s been really, really pleasing to see the ball flight I want to see and see a lot of good shots. I said to my caddy ‘we just need to try and get to 17 under. If we get there, then we’ve got a chance’ and I just went out and played to that. I had a nice chip in on six for eagle, so that got us going.
“I think we had about 70 yards out the rough but it was a really tight pin. I rolled it up the bank and it went in and then, all of sudden, I was right in contention. We went through the turn tied for the lead and I thought ‘we’re right in with a shout here’. I just needed to keep playing solidly and pick out the birdies when I can and that’s what I did.”
Due to his serious knee injury, Stow admits his aim at the start of the season was purely to retain his card for 2019, but with victory in Prague, he’s quickly altered his targets.
“It sets you up really nicely,” he said. “I’ve got some money up on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah, so I can pick and choose my events. You can also relax and I think when you play golf relaxed, you get better results. At the start of the year coming back from injury, I honestly thought if I can just finish in the top 70 and maintain my card, that wouldn’t necessarily be a step backwards.
“To not play competitive golf for a year is a long time so to be right up there and be competing how I know I can, my goals have definitely changed. I want to push on and get a couple more good results, or wins, maybe.”
Stow was one of 12 players within three shots of the lead after Day Three and it looked as though the 2018 Prague Golf Challenge was destined for a play-off as the advantage exchanged hands numerous times.
Girrbach, playing in the group after Stow, was level with the Englishman going into the 18th but the Swiss native missed a par putt on the final hole to drop back to 17 under par.
A shot further back were Florian Fritsch and Robin Sciot-Siegrist, the latter of whom needed a birdie on the final hole to force a play-off, but the Frenchman’s aggressive chip missed the target and he settled for bogey.
Englishman Dan Brown finished on 16 under to secure his best-ever Challenge Tour finish of tied fifth alongside Jeppe Pape Huldahl, Kalle Samooja and Marcel Schneider.
With victory in Prague, Stow moves to 16th on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah with 39,451 points after leaping 80 places from his previous rank of 96. Runner-up Girrbach now sits 28th after beginning the week in 94th.