Bjorn wins on fifth extra hole

Thomas Bjorn won the Johnnie Walker Championship on Sunday after a marathon five-man play-off at Gleaneagles.

Thomas Bjorn won the Johnnie Walker Championship on Sunday after a marathon five-man play-off at Gleaneagles.

The Dane finished on 11 under par after a final-round 69 alongside four others, South African George Coetzee (67), Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal (69), Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger (69) and Englishman Mark Foster (72) – sending the five-man group into the sudden death play-off.

They would keep playing the par-five 18th hole until a winner emerged, and in the end the last two men standing, Bjorn and Coetzee, finally wrapped things up the fifth time around.

On the first play-off hole they all started solidly with pars, save for Wiesberger who was forced to take a drop after an errant tee shot. He recovered with a beautiful chip shot approach, but still could do no better than a bogey six, and was the first player eliminated.

The remaining foursome headed back to the 18th tee, and while three once again made solid pars, Larrazabal’s approach found the rough bank at the back of the green. He left himself only four feet for his par, but missed the putt to end his challenge.

Only Bjorn, Coetzee and Foster remained, and this time around they all played perfect tee shots, solid irons and immaculate approach shots to within a few feet to each make birdie.

On the fourth play-off hole, it was again time for one of the competitors to be eliminated. While Bjorn repeated his performance at the last hole, leaving himself three feet for birdie, and Coetzee hit an approach to 10 feet to equal that score, Foster was forced to hack his second shot out of the rough, and found the rough next to the green again with his third shot. He eventually had to settle for a bogey six, and fell out of the race.

Now it was down to Bjorn and Coetzee and perhaps as a sign of nerves they both found the rough with their tee shots. The South African was in the worse position, however, and could only advance his second shot a small distance up the fairway, while Bjorn used a rescue club to move his ball much further.

Coetzee could do no better than leave himself 40 feet for birdie with his third shot, but Bjorn once again stepped up as he had done at the last two holes with a perfect approach, hitting an eight iron to within three feet.

Coetzee’s birdie effort was a valiant one, but it narrowly missed and settled three feet past the hole. He tapped in for par, but only before Bjorn nailed his three-footer to finally emerge victorious.

The 40-year-old Dane admitted that he had to dig deep to complete the job.

“I think when you set out in a play-off with five guys you’re almost a little bit too relaxed because it takes a lot for it to go your way,” said Bjorn.

“But as we got rid of one at a time all of a sudden it became very hard but the way I played the last three play-off holes, I can’t be more proud.”

It’s Bjorn’s 12th European Tour victory and his second of the year following his win at the Commercialbank Qatar Masters back in February. He also finished fourth in the Open at Sandwich in July.

“This is my second win this year and I’ve got to be just thrilled with that. Things are going in the right direction and when I get under the cosh I feel pretty comfortable and pretty good,” he added.

“I’m going in the right direction and I’m happy with that.

“Hopefully there’s a few more to come.”

While disappointed, Coetzee was pleased with bettering his best ever showing on Tour. After an opening 77 on Thursday he probably would not have given himself much chance of getting into a winning position, but rounds of 66, 67 and 67 saw him steadily move up the field throughout the week.

“I think I did well. I stayed with it. I’m quite happy with the way I handled it,” Coetzee said.

“I’ll take second place, it’s an improvement on my best finish. Next time I’ll go one better. Hopefully.”

Sweden’s Joel Sjoholm shot a 68 to finish just one shot behind the leaders alongside Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher (69).

Joint overnight leader Ignacio Garrido shot a disappointing 74 to finish on nine under with France’s Victor Dubuisson (67) and England’s Kenneth Ferrie (69).