Hugo Santos held his nerve in a play-off to win the UniCredit PGA Professional Championship of Europe and claim the most prestigious victory of his career.
With Santos and Ben Collier level on 11-under-par after four rounds at Pravets Golf Resort and Spa, Bulgaria, the par four 18th had to be replayed to determine who would claim the €10,000 first prize.
In the event, it went to Portugal’s Santos after he deposited his approach to within six feet and, with Collier down in regulation, holed the putt for a Championship-winning birdie.
The dramatic climax was a fitting end to a Championship staged at a venue that, despite opening as recently as May, has earned almost unanimous acclaim from the cream of Europe’s PGA professionals.
“The feedback from the players has been nothing but complimentary,” said Ian Randell, the PGAs of Europe chief executive. “The tournament was as close to perfection as it could be.”
Moreover, the need for a shoot-out to settle it typified the contest, the outcome of which was as unpredictable as the movements of a drunk from the moment Santos despatched his opening drive out of bounds until he sank that final putt.
The aberration at the first, which resulted in a treble bogey, saw Santos’s overnight lead erased at a stroke.
To make matters worse for the Portugese, Collier, two shots adrift at the start, birdied the hole to complete a four-stroke swing and take the lead.
Santos, who is attached to Villa Sol and finished level par for the final round, atoned with birdies at the sixth and ninth; by which time, Collier, who bogeyed the second, was building up a head of steam.
Another birdie followed at the third and the Scottish left-hander, who is based in Holland, came within inches of an ace at the par-three eighth.
Come the tenth, which Santos double-bogeyed, Collier had established a three-stroke lead.
From then until the 17th, his advantage wavered from two to three.
However, when Collier dunked his tee shot into the water guarding the island green at the par three 17th and chalked up a double-bogey, parity was restored and the stage set for the dramatic climax.
Santos, despite needing Collier to open the door for him at the 17th to get back into contention, was always confident he could retrieve the deficit.
“I always believed I could win,” he said. “Even when I was two strokes behind with two holes to play.”
Curiously, though, Santos was more nervous about taking on the putt at the 18th which forced the play-off than the one 15 minutes later that clinched the title.
He added: “I was confident I would hole the one to win the tournament but was worried about the one before because the play-off depended on it.”
As well as attributing his success to accuracy off the tee – aside from the first hole on the final round, that is – Santos was indebted to the support of his caddy, José Correia, the President of the PGA of Portugal.
“He was a great help,” said Santos. “He gave me a lot of good advice and steadied me – especially after my bad drive on the first hole and before the play-off. We’ve been a real team.”
Correia, understandably, was delighted with his 31-year-old compatriot’s victory.
“I’m very proud,” he said. “Hugo is a friend of mine as well being a Portugese PGA professional. As he would have been on his own this week and not known anyone, I came to keep him company as well as help him. He deserves his success – hopefully it will make him realize how good he is.”
Meanwhile, Collier, who led the tournament after the first and second rounds, was left to reflect on what might have been.
Recalling his nemesis, the tee shot at Pravets’ signature hole, he said: “I’d used an eight iron at the 17th in the previous rounds but opted for a nine this time. I felt as though I’d hit it perfectly but I think a gust of wind caught the ball and it fell short.
“But although it’s disappointing not to win, I’ve had a great week and enjoyed every moment. It’s been a terrific experience and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”
Collier, who posted a two-under-par final round of 70, earned £6,800 for finishing second, while Ralph Miller, another Holland-based Briton, picked up a cheque for £3,900 for third place. Murphy, who carded a level par final round for a total of 280, also won a bottle of champagne for his second round of 65 – a course record.
Day 3 – Santos in Charge at Pravets
Hugo Santos is firmly on course to win the UniCredit PGA Professional Championship of Europe at Pravets Golf Resort and Spa, Bulgaria, after posting his third successive sub-par round.
The Portuguese, who is attached to Villa Sol, goes into the fourth and final round three shots clear of the field after carding a three-under-par round of 69.
That puts him 11-under for the revived Championship, which was last contested in 2004 and carries a first prize of €10,000.
And, as on day one, Santos’ latest round over the new and much-acclaimed Peter Harradine-designed course was bogey-free.
Such has been his consistency, he has carded just one bogey – at the par four sixth in the second round.
Santos (right) attributes that to his accuracy off the tee and said: “I didn’t miss a fairway today – that’s essential if you’re going to have a good round.”
He will looking to maintain that metronomic driving to withstand the expected challenge from his nearest pursuers, Holland-based Britons Ben Collier and Ralph Miller.
The left-handed Collier is two adrift after posting a one-over-par 73, and Miller a further shot behind following a one-under round of 71
Collier (left) , the overnight leader who recovered from a shaky start, said: “I’m certainly not out of it.”
His task could have been even harder had he not finished the round with a flourish after carding three bogeys in the first six holes.
Another followed at the 11th but birdies at the 13th and 17th revived his hopes of victory.
By contrast, disaster at the par three 17th looks to have ruined Simon Edwards’ hopes of claiming the winner’s cheque.
Edwards, who is representing Wales, teed up for it on four-under – just two shots adrift of Santos.
But his tee shot ricocheted off one of the boulders flanking the island green and into the water.
Edwards, who had to settle for a double bogey and two-under-par round of 70, said: “I was going well until the 17th when the ball caught a gust of wind and went into the hazard. Nevertheless, I’d play the same shot again.”
Edwards (right) reckons that setback has cost him the chance of overhauling Santos and added: “At nine-under, I’d be looking at him. But not at seven-under – that’s probably too much ground to make up.”
As well as harming his hopes of victory, the double bogey also cost Edwards the distinction of sharing the best round of the day with Frederic Cupillard of France.
Cupillard served notice of his intentions with birdies at the first two holes before following suit at the fourth, seventh, tenth, 13th and 18th.
However, the possibility of him equaling the course record of seven-under set by Miller in the second round were wrecked by a double bogey at the par four third and another at the 11th.
Day 2 -Birthday Boy Ben Sets the Pace
Ben Collier made it a case of many happy returns at the halfway stage of the UniCredit PGA Professional Championship of Europe at Pravets Golf Resort and Spa, Bulgaria.
The Holland-based Scot, who was celebrating his birthday put daylight between him and the rest of the field thanks to a second successive five-under-par round of 67.
That put him two shots clear of Portugal’s Hugo Santos who, sharing pole position with Collier at the start of play, returned another sub-par round – this time a 69.
Collier (left), whose first round was bogey-free, began the second round seamlessly with a birdie at the first before his flawless display ended at the third.
“I three-putted there but was steady after that,” said the left-hander. Two more birdies followed in the outward nine and another three on the way home. It was his performance over the front nine that pleased Collier the most, however.
“The back nine is a bit more friendly,” he added. “If you finish the front nine on level par or one-under, you’ve done well.”
That was certainly the case with Ralph Miller who posted the round of the day, a seven-under-par 65.
Miller is another Briton based in Holland and his round, a record for the Peter Harradine-designed course, was bogey free and included four birdies in the outward nine.
He served notice of the pyrotechnics to come with a birdie at the second before rattling off three on the bounce at the 6th, 7th and 8th.
Three more birdies followed on the back nine and he came within inches of an eighth at the par four 18th, a near miss that followed his first errant tee shot of the round.
Miller (right) , the PGA professional at the Old Course Loeven, attributed his round to a combination of good putting and accurate driving.
He said: “I putted very well and, apart from a wayward one at the 18th, my driving was good as well.”
Miller’s second round, which followed him completing the first in regulation, left him three shots adrift of Collier – a scenario the latter decsribes as something of a rarity.
“We’ve got a nice tour in Holland and Ralph’s usually at the top of the leaderboard,” he said.
Aside, that is, from at least once this year – in the National Open for Holland.
“I led that at the halfway stage after two rounds,” Collier recalled. “And ended up by winning it, so hopefully that’s a good omen.”
Claiming the 10,000 first prize would make it a double celebration for Collier, who is based at the Royal Hague Golf Country Club.
However, a chasing pack that, in addition to Santos and Miller, includes experienced campaigners such as Simon Edwards of Wales (five-under), plus Simon Brown and Michele Reale, who are representing Germany and Italy respectively and are a shot further back, is more than capable of making him work for it.
Day 1 – Collier and Santos turn up the heat in Bulgarian sunshine
Ben Collier and Hugo Santos set the pace in the opening round of the revived PGA Professional Championship of Europe at Pravets Golf Resort and Spa, Bulgaria.
Both carded flawless five-under-par rounds of 67 to open up a two-shot gap on the rest of the field in the Championship that is sponsored by UniCredit Bulbank and carries a first prize of €10,000.
Collier, the Holland-based Scot, and Portugal’s Santos also carded five birdies on the Peter Harradine-designed course that was in such superb condition it was difficult to accept it had only been opened in May.
Collier (left), who is based at the Royal Hague Golf and Country Club, said: “It must be the first time in my life that I’ve had a bogey-free round, so it’s good timing.
“And the course is in super condition, especially the greens. They are very true – you can read them and that gives you confidence.”
Not that Collier, a left-hander who worked at a Harradine-designed course in Abu Dhabi for two years before moving to Holland in January, was surprised by how quickly Pravets has matured.
He added: “That was good, so is this. It’s clear he knows what he’s doing. The front nine is quite tight and the back nine opens up a bit, which suits me.”
As if to prove the point, four of Collier’s quintet of birdies came in the back nine – at the 10th, 11th, 13th and 15th.
Santos (right), by contrast, carded two birdies in the first three holes and then followed suit at the 10th, 13th and 16th.
Santos, who is attached to Villa Sol and has made two appearances on the Challenge Tour this year, attributed his encouraging start to his driving.
He said: “I was very solid off the tee. I missed one fairway, so that set me up for a good round.”
And like Collier, he was similarly impressed with Harradine’s handiwork.
He added: “It’s a very good golf course that’s in perfect condition.”
Meanwhile, England’s Simon Edwards, the best placed representative from the home countries as a result of carding a three-under-par 69, was even more effusive.
He said: “It’s visually stunning, challenging and is in superb condition. If this is how golf in Bulgaria is going to be, then how can the game not take off here?”
Edwards (left), who represented Great Britain and Ireland in the PGA Cup earlier this month and played in The Open at Royal St George’s, looked on course to make it a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard going into the par three 17th.
Four-under at that stage thanks to a birdie blitz at 10, 11, 12 and 13, his 3 foot putt for par on the island green lipped out to cost him his sole bogey of the day and leave him level with Germany-based Briton Simon Brown.
But, with three more rounds remaining of the Championship, which is being contested for the first time since 2004, Edwards was happy with his opening effort.
He added: “The bogey was disappointing, especially as I’d been putting OK. But if I’d been offered a 69 at the start of the day, I’d have taken it.”
Bulgaria’s top brass give golf the thumbs up
The revived PGA Professional Championship of Europe has been given a high-profile send off by the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov.
In addition to boasting a new sponsor in international financiers UniCredit Bulbank, the tournament is being staged at a new venue – the recently constructed Pravets Resort, a 45 minute drive from Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city.
Hosting the event, which carries a first prize of €10,000 and is being contested for the first time since 2004, marks the continuing growth of golf in the country
And Mr Borisov was present at the pre-tournament pro-am at the Peter Harradine-designed course to give it his seal of approval.
He said: “This is the first Championship to be held in Bulgaria and the fact that it is being played here will contribute to the country’s aim to be a great golfing destination.
“I would like to congratulate the hosts for the excellent organisation and thank the sponsors for supporting the tournament.”
Mr Borisov was joined at the pro-am by UniCredit Bulbank’s chief executive officer and chief operation officer, Levon Hampartsumyan and Andrea Casim respectively; as well as the President of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee, former Olympic high jumper Stefka Kostadinova; Vasil Zlatev, the owner of Pravets; and PGAs of Europe chief executive Ian Randell.
The pro-am itself also featured some high-profile Bulgarians including Hristo Stoichkov, one of the country’s most celebrated footballers who was a member of the side that reached the semi-finals in the 1994 World Cup.
But it was a possible star of tomorrow who caught the eye in the pro-am. Playing alongside one of the contestants in the PGA Professional Championship of Europe, Sweden’s Peter Grimfjord, 13-year-old Lubomir Kostov was a member of the winning team.
The five-handicapper is one of several promising young golfers in the country likely to benefit from a €4,000 donation from the Championship to the Pravets Junior Golf Clinic.
PGAs of Europe Championship Re-Launch
The PGAs of Europe is re-launching its 72-hole individual strokeplay championship next year after a break of six years as the association’s tournament schedule, including international pro-ams, grows and spreads into new territories.
A THREE-YEAR AGREEMENT HAS BEEN REACHED WITH PRAVETS GOLF CLUB BULGARIA TO UNDERWRITE AND HOST THE CHAMPIONSHIP BEGINNING IN OCTOBER 2011.
The PGA Professional Championship of Europe hosted by Pravets Golf Club is sure to attract an elite field of 60 PGA professionals competing for a prize fund of no less than €60,000 as the best players from the association’s 30 Full Member countries qualify through their national championships. The Peter Harradine-designed course at Pravets Golf & Spa Resort, situated a mere 40 minutes drive from Sofia, opened in July 2010.
Welcoming the opportunity to return the 72-hole individual championship to the schedule, PGAs of Europe chief executive, Ian Randell said: “We are thrilled to be able to re-establish the PGA Professional Championship of Europe with Pravets Golf Club. I am sure that it will quickly return to its rightful place as a highlight of not only our calendar but also on the calendars of our National PGAs.
“To be crowned as the champion of PGA pros in Europe is a great honour and I would like to thank all involved at Pravets and their golf management partners, Braemar Golf, for their wonderful support and commitment to ensuring the return of the Championship for the coming years.”
This will be the first 72-hole PGAs of Europe individual championship since 2004 when it was played at Pevero, Costa Smeralda, Sardinia.
The absence of a suitable sponsor since then has meant that Andrew George of GB&I has been the ‘reigning champion’ ever since.
Now with a firm commitment from Pravets Golf Club for it to return as the PGA Professional Championship of Europe with a revamped format, the championship will be truly representative of the best of those European PGA professionals whose career path is not devoted exclusively to tournament golf.
Lachezar Todorov, CEO of Terra Tour Service, the owner of Pravets Golf Club commented “We are delighted to host the premier event for non touring PGA professionals across Europe and look forward to welcoming them to Pravets next year. The sponsorship shows the commitment to putting Pravets and Bulgaria in the minds of golfers and tourists and we look forward to welcoming not only the players in 2011 but golfers and guests from across Europe in years to come. I would like to thank Braemar Golf and the PGAs of Europe for their role in bringing this opportunity together”
The qualification criteria for the PGA Professional Championship of Europe will be similar to those of the annual International Team Championship (ITC). The maximum field of 60 such contestants, who spend a percentage of their time on golf club, driving range, academy duties and the like, will be compiled on a weighted basis with the number of qualification places available being determined by the number of members of each respective PGA.
Pravets is just one of a number of superb new courses and resorts being developed. These include courses designed by leading architects such as Gary Player and Ian Woosnam, and an interest in the sport is being carefully nurtured by a small number of PGA professionals along with the National Association, the government and business interests.
Bulgaria is pursuing a policy of attracting a whole new segment to their tourism industry by the development of a golfing culture. So who better to assist this aim than the international field of PGA Professionals from across Europe?
They will witness at first-hand what Pravets and Bulgaria have to offer in terms of golf, tourism and hospitality and spread the word across the golfing community in their clubs and countries thereby placing Bulgaria on the golfing map as never before.
2011 promises to be an exciting year with discussions well advanced to re-introduce the Fourball Championship to accompany the International Team and Individual Championships.
PRAVETS GOLF & SPA: Fit for Champions
Pravets Golf & Spa, Bulgaria, the location for the re-launch of the prestigious PGAs of Europe 72-hole Strokeplay Championship, is a superb facility in lovely surroundings, a Bulgarian paradise waiting to be discovered by the golfing community at large.
With the stunning Stara Planina mountains and picturesque Lake Pravets as its backdrop, it is guaranteed to provide a tough but fair challenge for the cream of Europe’s PGA professionals when the European title is re-born in October 2011, after a seven-year absence since 2004.
The resort features a four-star Riu hotel with restaurants and night club, superb spa and fully equipped fitness centre, all-round sporting facilities including water sports on the lake, a 400-seater conference centre, casino and attractive wooded surrounds.
All this and a magnificent golf course designed by Peter Harradine, one that is cleverly created for champions and handicap players alike, with many challenging feature holes and, as the pictures on this page illustrate, set in idyllic surrounds, ideal both for elite and for tourist golf.
Strokeplay Championship Flashback…
When organised under the banner of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide The PGAs of Europe 72-hole strokeplay title was won by Richard Dinsdale (1999) and Sion Bebb (2000), both Wales, Andrew George of England, twice (2001, 2004) and Paul Wesselingh of England, 2002.
Since then the quality of players emerging from countries in mainland Europe has increased significantly and, with each of the contestants having to qualify to earn their place, the competition is bound to be intense.