Last-gasp birdie by Kinhult denies Pepperell British Masters defence dream

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Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult recovered from dropping two shots on the back nine at Hillside, to finish birdie, birdie to claim the Betfred British Masters. Picture by GETTY IMAGES

MARCUS Kinhult held off challenges from defending champion Eddie Pepperell, four-time winner Matt Wallace and Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre to win his first European Tour title at the Betfred British Masters.

The Swede birdied the final two holes at Hillside Golf Club after dropping two strokes on the previous two holes, to finish one ahead of Pepperell, Wallace and MacIntyre, the young Scot chasing his first victory on just his 14th European Tour start.

Kinhult, who has been tipped to breakthrough since turning pro in 2015 – having won the prestigious Lytham Trophy as an amateur that summer – said: “It’s unreal. I’ve been dreaming about it for such a long time and to finally do it is amazing.

“My knees were shaking on that final putt. My hands were shaking. Everything was shaking. It’s hard to remember now. Just so much nerves and so much willpower I guess. It’s a cool feeling.

“It was a real fight today. I played solid the front nine. Could have played better and then played okay beginning of the back nine and made bogey on 15 and 16. Then just managed to hole two good putts on 17 and 18.

“It was tough. I just tried to stay patient, composed and somehow I made those two last birdies. It is great. This is a very prestigious event and a nice little trophy to have. To get it as my first win is special.

“I had a great first impression when I got here Monday. I was just loving it here. The weather has been fantastic over the weekend. The crowds have been great crowds this week. I was surprised to see that many coming out on the weekend, since it’s a Premier League day today,” added Marcus, whose sister Frida is ranked sixth in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.

There was a four-way tie on 15 under par when Kinhult and Wallace stood on the 18th tee, but Kinhult converted a birdie putt from eight feet to claim his maiden title, becoming the third Swedish winner of the British Masters after Alex Noren, in 2016, and Johan Edfors, in 2006.

Frilford Heath’s Pepperell, defending the title he won at Walton Heath in October, carded a final round six under par 66, while Wallace, who shared the 54-hole lead with Kinhult, signed for a one under par round to join him and MacIntyre in second place.

The Abingdon-based tour star said: “It was a good round. Very steady, really. I only hit a couple of bad shots but it was very steady. The whole week, I only made two bogeys actually which for me is remarkable.

I kind of set myself a target of 17 a round after the turn, and I thought, I expected those guys to get to 17 — get to 16 in the end. They were not far off that. The pins weren’t easy today and the pressure at the end playing with those guys, you can never be too sure.

“But fair play to Marcus. He’s been a good player for a while, so it is good to see,” said Pepperell, who won the British Masters at Walton Heath, in October.

MacIntyre – who lost the 2016 British Amateur Final to Hampshire’s Scott Gregory, who missed the cut at Hillside – looked to have dropped out of contention after a double bogey on the par five second hole.

But he pulled a shot back on the fourth hole and then played the back nine in five-under to race up the leaderboard closing with an eagle at the 17th and a birdie at the last.

MacIntyre, who also played in the same Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team as Gregory and Hampshire team-mates Harry Ellis and Jack Singh-Brar in 2017, said: “I just stuck to the game plan. I  doubled the second early on but my caddie said to me, just be patient.

“Really this week was probably the best I’ve hit my irons. I hit them much better this week. I struggled a bit off the tee. I thought, I just had to hang in. Today on the 16th tee, I looked back and thought, this is what it’s all about. The fans were brilliant. Tommy was great, as well.”

Fellow Scot Richie Ramsay took solo fifth place on 12-under after a level-par round, with English pair Jordan Smith, from Wiltshire, and Cheshire’s Paul Waring sharing sixth on 11-under.

Tournament host Tommy Fleetwood shared eighth place on 10-under  with five other golfers, including former World No. 1 Martin Kaymer, on his return to his native Southport.

Fleetwood, who beat Surrey’s Warren Harmston in the 2010 English Amateur Final at Little Aston, in 2010, said: “I think it’s been great. My own performance wasn’t good particularly, from start to finish, I didn’t hit it great.

“But you know, I could have hit them better on the last few holes, of course I could have. Things maybe caught up with me in the end. It was disappointing the way I played.

“I couldn’t have asked for more from the event. It is the first event I ever had a part in hosting and brought it to Southport, and you never know how it’s going to go. It’s been amazing.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from everybody who has turned out, or just watching or working the event and volunteering and made it such a great event and very memorable for me.”

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