A rising star's impressive Sunday at The Belfry costs a journeyman and a major champ chances at heartwarming wins
A closing 65 pushed Rasmus Hojgaard into a playoff at the U.K. Championship, and a par on the second extra hole secured him the title.
The rise and rise of Rasmus Hojgaard continues. Already a winner this season at the Mauritius Open—in his fifth career European Tour start—the 19-year-old Dane has doubled his victory tally after only 10 more appearances. Hojgaard’s par 4 at the second extra hole was enough to beat South Africa’s Justin Walters and clinch the U.K. Championship title at The Belfry.
The playoff pair had tied at 14-under-par 274 on the four-time Ryder Cup venue’s Brabazon course, one shot better than former U.S. Open and PGA champion Martin Kaymer and Frenchman Benjamin Hebert. World No. 30 Bernd Wiesberger, the highest-ranked player in the field, tied for fifth alongside Scotsman Craig Howie on 12 under.
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In ideal scoring conditions—41 of the 64-strong field broke par—Hojgaard’s closing 65 tied for low round of the day. He was four under par for the last five holes, an eagle at the par-5 17th the highlight when his 260-yard hybrid second shot pulled up no more than 10 feet from the cup. A safe par at the treacherous 18th (where he made a triple-bogey 7 on Thursday) set the target only Walters could match.
“It’s been a tough day,” said Hojgaard, who began the final round five shots behind Walters. “I went out with the same mindset I had all week. My aim was just to give myself as many birdie opportunities as possible, then see if I could take advantage of them. Much more than yesterday, I managed that. The last six holes were a bit of a blur. I was disappointed when I made a bogey on the 12th, then again when I didn’t birdie the par-5 15th. But from then on I took the chances when they came along. The shot I hit to the 17th green was the best of them though. It was an incredible shot.”
Up to fourth on the Race to Dubai and (provisionally) around 60th in the world, Hojgaard also topped the mini Order of Merit made up of the six events of the European Tour’s initial U.K. Swing. No surprise there for the man who was part of Denmark’s winning side at the 2018 World Amateur Team Championship (alongside twin brother, Nicolai). Second at the British Masters, T-6 at the Hero Open and third at the English Championship, Hojgaard was clearly the most consistent performer over the six-week stretch. Not bad for a teenager who was at the European Tour Qualifying School less than a year ago. In three weeks time, he will make his U.S Open debut at Winged Foot.
In contrast to the winner’s beaming smile in the immediate aftermath of victory, it was a day of disappointment for at least some of those piled up behind the precocious champion. Walters in particular. In what was his 227th European Tour start the 39-year-old remains winless at the end of a round that contained a little bit of everything. Two shots clear with 18 holes to play, Walters made seven birdies and two bogeys in his closing 70. But the drive he hit out-of-bounds way right of the eighth fairway en route to a triple-bogey 7 will surely be his biggest regret.
Likewise, Kaymer’s search for a first victory since the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst continues. The 34-year-old German looked the likely winner for much of the back nine. First to reach 13 under par, and first to reach 14 under, Kaymer struck a series of beautiful iron shots into the soft Belfry greens. Most of those birdie chances went unrequited, however. Although the bogey 6 at the reachable 17th, where, after a wayward drive, he took three to get down from just off the green, will no doubt be the unforced error the former World No. 1 will rue most.