Pablo Larrazabal defeated fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia in a -sudden-death playoff to claim the BMW International Open title on Sunday.
Both players were looking to end barren spells on the European Tour and Larrazabal’s birdie at the fifth extra hole saw him home after the pair had finished two shots ahead of the field. The compatriots earned a place in next month’s British Open via a mini order of merit that began five weeks ago.
“When we walked to the first playoff hole we congratulated each other at making our [British] Open places,” Larrazabal, who picked up a prize of US$470,000 with his second title after victory in the 2008 French Open, told reporters.
“Sergio was on fire and I was on fire,” he said. ““I knew I had to make birdies to beat Sergio, who I think is still in the world’s top five when he is playing well. It was a great playoff and I’m proud of myself.”
Larrazabal set the target of 16-under par 272 with a four-under 68. Then former world No. 2 Garcia, ending a two-year troubled spell in which he plummeted down the rankings, matched him with a closing birdie.
A nerve-wracking shootout came after both players had produced exhilarating golf for long spells to dispute the honors before late mistakes left the title hanging in the balance.
Garcia fired two eagles and three birdies to pick up seven shots in six holes from the sixth. Larrazabal’s five birdies in six holes from the sixth at first nudged him in front. However, Garcia’s second eagle, coming on the 11th, took him to the top by two shots when Larrazabal, playing ahead, bogeyed the 13th.
However, the wheels suddenly came off for Garcia as he ran up four bogeys in five holes and he needed to birdie the 72nd to force extra holes.
After a seventh-place finish in the US Open last week, Garcia, still without a win since November 2008, was at least happy that he has found form again to knock on the door of the world’s top 50.
“My goal was to qualify for the British Open and I’ve done that,” he said. “It was a pity one of us had to lose, but seventh in the US Open and this, shows my game is coming around.”
A disappointing tied 18th finish by local favorite Martin Kaymer, seven shots shy of the playoff, dropped the German to fourth place in the world rankings, allowing US Open champion Rory McIlroy to leapfrog him into third spot.
With Luke Donald first in the world and Lee Westwood second, it is the first time British players have held the top three spots in the 25 years since the world rankings started.