Two years after he feared crippling vertigo might end his career altogether, Thomas Levet completed his golfing rehabilitation in style when he beat teenager Oliver Fisher in a sudden-death play-off to claim the MAPFRE Open de Andalucia by Valle Romano.
The 39 year old Frenchman’s never-say-die attitude saw him battle back to tie with the 19 year old Englishman on 16 under par 272, Fisher having looked favourite for his maiden title for most of the closing stages of an enthralling tournament.
But, standing on the 18th tee with a one shot lead, Fisher’s adrenalin-fuelled tee shot on the 448 yard hole found the water hazard to the left of the fairway and his resulting bogey five saw him end level with Levet after both men carded 67s.
Into the play-off on the 18th hole again and, understandably still thinking about his tee-shot of earlier, Fisher throttled back only this time to find the fairway bunker.
Having played out, his third shot flew over the putting surface and although he did well to pitch and putt for a second consecutive bogey five, Levet’s regulation par four was good enough to give him his fourth European Tour title, nearly four years after a stunning final round at Loch Lomond saw him win the 2004 Barclays Scottish Open.
“I think my experience told a lot at the end,” he said. “Today I was calm all the time and I just kept telling myself to hang on because I know from all my previous experiences in golf that anything can happen.
“Oliver made it very tough for us all day long as he was playing super golf, but I told myself that the finishing holes here are very difficult and you never know what might happen.
“But it is very tough on him though, I must say that. But I think he is going to be the next Nick Faldo because his game is unbelievable. If he stays on Tour for another few years and keeps improving the way he has done he will be at the level of Tiger, he is that good.
“We were actually having a laugh that seven days after he was born, I was out on Tour! But he is a great player, he is powerful and precise and he has a great short game and is a good putter. It will be tough for him to take today and I am sorry for him.
Although naturally delighted for himself, Levet took time out to dedicate his victory to the late father of European Tour colleague and fellow countryman Raphaël Jacquelin who passed away a couple of weeks ago.
“When we were in Korea, things were not very good for Raphaël as his best friend died on the Friday and then his dad died on the following Tuesday. I would like to dedicate this win to his dad because I know how much he meant to his career and we want Raphaël to know we are all thinking about him right now.”
Twelve months ago, the inaugural MAPFRE Open de Andalucia by Valle Romano proved the catalyst for Lee Westwood’s climb back to the top level of world golf and the defending champion began the final round one shot clear of Fisher and Levet.
Four birdies in his first six holes made it appear that the 34 year old Englishman was about to successfully defend a title for the first time since the 2000 European Open. But back-to-back bogeys at the eighth and ninth took the wind out of Westwood’s sails and he could not find another birdie all day, his closing 71 for a 13 under par total of 275 good enough for third place, one shot clear of Swedes Alexander Noren and Patrik Sjöland.
It left the destination of the title and the €116,660 (£129,849) first prize to be contested by Fisher and Levet and, despite a wobble in the middle of the back nine where he carded successive bogeys at the 13th and 14th to see his lead trimmed from three shots to one, the ascendancy always appeared to be with the young Englishman.
When he fired a sensational approach shot to three feet for a birdie on the 15th and followed that with a two putt birdie four on the 16th, the prospect of him becoming the fifth youngest winner in European Tour history seemed inevitable.
However Levet is a doughty competitor and, just when Fisher might have begun to believe it was to be his day, the Frenchman pitched and putted for a birdie four of his own at the 16th before rolling in a crucial 25 footer for a birdie two on the demanding 230 yard 17th.
It reduced Fisher’s lead to only one shot coming down the last, crucial as it turned out when the Englishman’s tee shot found the water on his way to a bogey five.
“On the final hole I just turned it over a little bit and it pitched 15 to 20 yards short of the water. As soon as you get it going on the wind it goes miles,” said Fisher. “The second time was always going to be a little hard after doing that.
“But I was pretty happy with my week. I got myself into contention and played pretty nicely. You learn from your mistakes - you have to learn to lose before you learn to win almost. It was disappointing, but never mind.”