Romain Wattel wins KLM Open after late Kiradech Aphibarnrat collapse
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 19/09/17 2:56pm
Romain Wattel snatched his maiden victory on the European Tour after Kiradech Aphibarnrat double-bogeyed two of the last four holes on a dramatic final day of the KLM Open.
Wattel held his nerve to make a number of clutch pars down the stretch and card a two-under 69, which was enough to clinch a one-shot win over fast-finishing Austin Connelly, while Aphibarnrat ended the tournament three behind following his unfortunate late errors.
Frenchman Wattel arrived at The Dutch languishing at 130th in the Race to Dubai having not recorded a top-20 finish this season, but he ensured his playing rights for next year and beyond with his first career win in his 187th start.
The 26-year-old got his final round off to an excellent start with three birdies in five holes from the second, while overnight-leader Aphibarnrat picked up a shot at the third and reeled off a succession of pars to stay in contention as Wattel faltered around the turn.
Wattel bogeyed the eighth and 11th either side of a birdie at 10 as he and the Thai powerhouse headed into the final five holes tied at the top, but Aphibarnrat then edged back into the lead with a birdie at the 14th.
But he found water at the long 15th and ran up a costly double-bogey seven to hand the advantage back to Wattel, who was content to grind out the pars to clinch onto his lead over the field.
Chasing the birdie he needed to force a play-off, Aphibarnrat then attempted to reach the par-five 18th in two but again put his ball in a hazard and closed with another seven on his card to sign for a disappointing 73.
Playing-partner Wattel calmly holed out for his seventh consecutive par of a resolute back-nine as he posted a winning score of 15-under par, and admitted afterwards that he had come into the tournament with low expectations after two missed cuts and a lowly tie for 65th in Switzerland last week.
"I came to this tournament, I was playing poorly to be honest," he said. "Last week I struggled with my game, but I am happy with the way I played all week. It's been a very nice weekend.
"I've putting really bad the last two years, I think I'm a really good putter but the last two years were tough for me.
"I never thought about the score, I just tried to play my best. I was just trying to be as high as I could on the leaderboard but it was very tight. I just tried to play my own game."
Connelly earned his best finish on the European Tour as he matched his third-round 66 with his sixth birdie of the day at the last, while Eddie Pepperell birdied three of the last four holes to cap a brilliant 65 which elevated him into a share of third place.
Pepperell was joined on 13 under by veteran Lee Westwood, whose wait for a first win in three-and-a-half years goes on after he was left to rue an erratic front-nine which left him too far adrift to mount a challenge.
Westwood was one over for the day at the turn, although he did fight back with birdies at the 10th and 13th before another at the last completed a 69, while Joel Stalter, Sebastian Heisele and South African pair Justin Walters and George Coetzee also closed on 13 under.