Adrian Otaegui joins Seve Ballesteros in savouring St Andrews success
It wasn't quite on par with Seve Ballesteros standing on the 18th green at the Old Course and punching the air with delight after winning the 1984 Open, but another Spaniard certainly lit up a St Andrews course with both his golf and smile.
Having opened the inaugural Scottish Championship presented by AXA by making 10 birdies in carding a sensational 62 on the Torrance Course at Fairmont St Andrews, Adrian Otaegui matched that haul as he signed off with an equally-impressive 63.
The two brilliant efforts book-ended a brace of 70s, giving the 27-year-old San Sebastian man a 23-under-par total and a four-shot victory over Englishman Matt Wallace, who had held a three-stroke lead at the start of the day and a four-shot cushion over Otaegui.
It was Otaegui's third European Tour victory but his first in a stroke-play event after landing the 2017 Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play and the Belgian Knockout the following season.
He's now tasted success twice on Scottish soil, having triumphed in the British Boys' Championship at Kilmarnock (Barassie) in 2010, but this one was definitely the sweetest, both in terms of his performance and the location.
"I feel very happy," admitted Otaegui as he savoured a victory that lifted him to 25th in this season's Race to Dubai while he is also set to jump to around 158th from 248th in the world rankings. "It means a lot to be able to win in Scotland, especially here in St Andrews, the home of golf.
"Stroke-play is also my favourite way of playing golf. I think it is the proper way of playing golf. You have to play very solidly and very consistently all four rounds, which I think I did. I’m very happy to be able to win stroke play for my third win on the European Tour. I have no words."
Otaegui is just the third Spaniard to win in Scotland on the European Tour, joining Ballesteros following his memorable major win 26 years ago and, more recently, Rafa Cabrera Bello in the 2017 Scottish Open at Dundonald Links in Ayrshire.
"I'm in very good company," he said of being told that. "Seve is probably one of the best golfers ever while Rafa is a great friend of mine. I feel so happy.
"I've been doing good work the last few weeks and after the lockdown as well. I didn't know if it was going to be this week, but I knew I was going to give it everything and I felt a win was coming."
Wallace, who had been in the driving seat in his bid for a fifth tour victory after barely putting a foot wrong in the first three rounds, had a last day to forget after seeing his opening tee shot end up behind a wall and never finding his stride thereafter.
But, after rolling in a 30-footer for an opening birdie then knocking in one from 40 feet for a 2 at the fifth, it soon became clear that Otaegui had rediscovered his lethal aim on the greens from the opening day and, as was the case then, he almost couldn't miss.
He almost holed his tee shot at the eighth for the second of three straight birdies to turn in 31 and was close to an ace again at the 11th, leaving himself a tap in for that birdie. It followed his only dropped shot of the day at the tenth, a tough par-4.
At that point, Wallace and another Englishman, Garrick Porteous, were still clinging on to his coat-tails and still were after they all birdied the par-5 12th. Porteous, the 2013 Amateur champion from Northumberland, also matched another birdie from the relentless leader at the 13th then did likewise two holes later.
A double-bogey 6 at the 16th, though, ended his brave bid for a maiden victory, leaving Otaegui with a four-shot lead with two to play and, though Wallace birdied the par-3 17th to close the gap, a solid birdie to finish sealed victory in the style for the Spaniard.
"I had no expectations this morning, really," he insisted. "I just wanted to go out there, play well and shoot as well as possible. I mean If you told me I was going to shoot 63 this morning, I wouldn’t believe it.
"Everything went well, I played very well, I felt very well, I was very focused and I holed some good putts. It’s been a very good week an especially today was a very good day to finish the week.
"The golf I played today was very solid. I think the 7 iron I hit on number 11 was very important to make birdie after the only bogey I made on number ten. I think I really played well when I needed to.
"I think I holed all the important putts, the six-footers, I holed them today. I do think that when I had to, I played very well and hit some very good shots."
A closing 71 left Wallace having to settle for second spot on 19-under, two shots ahead of Scottish Open champion Aaron Rai, who birdied the last for a closing 66.
Rai's latest eye-catching effort, lifed him to fifth in the Race to Dubai rakings behind Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Collin Morikawa and Lee Westwood.
The highest-ranked player in the Fife field, Westwood signed off with a 67 to finish in a tie for 14th on 12-under alongside Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington (68).
Ewen Ferguson finished as the leading Scottish player, signing off with a 67 to claim a share of 16th spot on 11-under, one better than Calum Hill (70) and Marc Warren (70).
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