Sebastian Soderberg wins play-off as Rory McIlroy misses out in European Masters again
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 01/09/19 6:48pm
Sebastian Soderberg birdied the first extra hole to clinch the Omega European Masters title as Rory McIlroy endured play-off agony at Crans-sur-Sierre for the second time.
Soderberg holed the only birdie putt in a five-man play-off after the Swede had finished 72 holes tied at the top on 14 under with McIlroy, overnight-leader Andres Romero, Lorenzo Gagli and Kalle Samooja in a thrilling finale to the 80th staging of the event.
The 28-year-old, who arrived in Switzerland with his playing rights for next season under threat at 120th on the Race to Dubai, was the only one of the quintet to hit the fairway as the play-off began on the 18th, and he knocked a solid wedge to 10 feet moments after McIlroy had drilled a superb approach from the rough to six feet.
With Gagli finding water and Romero flying the green, Samooja then hit the closest second as the fate of the event boiled down to a three-way putting contest, and Soderberg atoned for missing an earlier chance for the win in regulation from similar distance when he rattled in his putt to heap pressure on McIlroy and Samooja.
McIlroy, who lost out to Jeff Lucquin in a play-off on the same green 11 years ago, was a little tentative with his putt and his ball did not catch enough of the left edge to drop, and Soderberg was crowned champion when Samooja's putt to extend the play-off lacked conviction and drifted right of the target.
That left Soderberg celebrating his maiden European Tour victory in his 50th start, cancelling out his disappointment on the final green half-an-hour earlier having surged into contention with five consecutive birdies after the turn, although he then three-putted the 17th to slip back to 14 under.
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Soderberg regrouped and hit two excellent blows down the last to give himself a chance to rectify the mistake, but his 10-footer for a seventh birdie of the day was just short of pace and he had to settle for back-to-back 66s over the weekend as he waited to see if that was enough to get into a play-off.
McIlroy had admitted he was battling fatigue following a faltering finish to his third-round 69 on Saturday evening which left him three off the lead overnight, and his challenge again hit the buffers early on the final day when he bogeyed two of the first three holes.
He repaired the damage with birdies at five and seven only to fritter away two more shots over the next three holes, taking his tally of bogeys for the week to 14, but the world No 2 then launched a stunning late fightback and reeled off five birdies in six holes from the 12th.
McIlroy's chances of atoning for his unfortunate play-off defeat to Lucquin in his only previous appearance in the tournament in 2008 again looked remote when he blocked his tee shot way right at the last, which left him with no option but to pitch back to the fairway.
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However, the 30-year-old showed his class when he clipped a wedge to a couple of feet and tapped in for a par and a closing 67 which tied the clubhouse lead with playing-partners Soderberg and Gagli, who started with a double-bogey but enjoyed a spirited finish with three birdies in a row from the 15th ensuring he would match McIlroy's 67.
The three-ball signed their cards and sauntered to the practice putting green to await the final two groups coming in, and only Samooja and Romero were able to match the leaders as the likes of Tommy Fleetwood (70) and Wade Ormsby (71) made too many mistakes down the stretch.
Ormsby put paid to his chances with a double-bogey seven at the long 15th, while Fleetwood offset three birdies with as many bogeys, his third at the 16th leaving him needing a birdie-birdie finish to get into the logjam on 14 under which proved beyond his reach.
Samooja looked arguably the most composed of the contenders as four birdies in six holes around the turn lifted him into a share of the lead, with further birdie chances at the long 14th and 15th ahead of him.
But he managed only pars and, after his heavy second to the last narrowly cleared the water hazard, he calmly two-putted for his sixth straight par to make it a four-way tie for the clubhouse lead.
Romero, like many of the field, found the opening run of holes a tough prospect and bogeyed three of the first five, but the Argentinian was another to produce a valiant late rally with three birdies in four holes from the 14th, and he did well to two-putt for par from around 70 feet at the last to complete the play-off picture.
Mike Lorenzo-Vera's birdies at four of the last six holes capped a 65 which was one too many to tie the lead, the Frenchman settling for a share of sixth with Adri Arnaus, whose three-three finish completed an impressive eight-birdie 64.