DELAMONTAGNE HOLDS HIS NERVE

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Sarah Gwynn comments on the pressures of keeping that precious European Tour card in her latest golf column.

There have been many high-pressure putts in golf over the years.
Some have been sunk, some have been missed.
But for Francois Delamontagne there have been none so nerve-wracking as the one from a foot for par on the 18th green at the Castellon Masters on Sunday.
He had to hole what would usually be a routine stroke to keep alive his chances of retaining his European Tour card for next season, and with it a decent living, a shot at the big tournaments and the chance of differentiating himself from the thousands of other golfers trying to make it on to the Tour.
He made it, and came off the green ashen-faced and sweating and still not assured of making 118th place on the Order of Merit, the final qualification spot.
It should not have all hung on that one putt though. The Frenchman had played well the first two days with rounds of 66 and 67 on the par-71 course.
Swede Patrick Sjoland, the man occupying 118th last week, missed the cut, meaning Delamontagne needed 9,267 euros to leapfrog him into that spot and keep his card.
He then shot 73 in the third round and crumbled on the final day, saying afterwards that he “played so terribly”.
A three-over 74 left him requiring compatriot Gregory Bourdy – already assured of his card for 2009 – to not better par on his last three holes.
He didn’t, allowing Delamontagne to scrape in by 333 euros.
“It’s been the most terrible day of my life I think,” he said.
“I played very badly on the front nine and had a bad start making three bogeys in a row. But I was telling myself that I have to give the maximum for all 18 holes even when it’s not going well.
“I knew I just had to make a few birdies but I made a few bogeys on the back nine. It was just terrible, I played so terribly.
“On the 18th green I knew it was close and I knew I had to make par. It was extremely nerve-wracking.
“I’ve worked so hard this year and people have been telling my I’ve had a great season so it’s strange that I was in this position.
“To have to go back to Tour School and try to qualify after I’ve had four top-10 finishes and played well would have been terrible.”
He added: “I’m looking forward to a few weeks’ holiday and a lot of sleep. I’m going to sleep all next week.
“I’m having a holiday in Mauritius with my wife which will be a deserved break.
“I’m going to take a long break because the last few tournaments have been so hard for me.
Delamontagne’s gain was other players’ losses.
Garry Houston finished 120th after finishing tied for 54th in Spain; Australian Peter Fowler narrowly missed out and Jean Van der Velde was eight places back, although he recently announced he would be quitting full-time golf at the end of the season.
Englishman Sam Little, however, put in a fine performance to tie for 15th and finish 112th on the Order of Merit – avoiding a repeat of his last-gasp heroics last year.
In 2007 he was placed outside the top 170 with three events to go but moved up to 136th after the Open de Madrid.
He still needed something special at the Mallorca Classic and he delivered, finishing second to rise 60 places to 76th on the Order of Merit.
“It was tough,” said Little. “Not quite as tough as last year but Friday was a very difficult day.
“I knew I had to make the cut, especially when I saw Francois (Delamontagne) on the leaderboard.
“When I’m under the cosh a bit I tend to play well.
“Next season I’ve got to get out the blocks quickly. I was slow starting this year and I’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

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