NEWPORT, Wales – Unheralded Swedish golfer Alexander Noren captured his second European Tour title by winning the Wales Open on Sunday, finishing two strokes clear after having first topped the leaderboard during the second round.
The 127th-ranked Noren shot a 1-under 70 in the final round for a 9-under total of 275 at Celtic Manor, adding to his win at the 2009 European Masters.
Noren won’t be able to celebrate for too long. He is scheduled to tee off at Sunningdale on Monday in a qualifying tournament for the British Open at Royal St. George’s next month.
“It will be weird but I will look forward to it,” he said. “I can’t believe it still. When the final putt was this far, I knew it was done. It was incredible.”
Gregory Bourdy of France hit the only bogey-free round in a 67 to finish joint runner-up with Anders Hansen of Denmark (71). Swedish pair Johan Edfors (69) and Peter Hanson (72) plus Ricardo Gonzalez of Argentina and Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal were next at 278.
Noren’s confidence was boosted by coming through a qualifier on Monday for the U.S. Open at Washington’s Congressional course from June 16. It will be only his second major after taking a share of 19th place at the 2008 British Open.
He could still have been forgiven for succumbing to nerves, having only five top-three finishes in 122 previous events on the European Tour since turning pro in 2005. But Noren drove straight all day to make only one bogey in wet and windy conditions, aided by a putter that rarely let him down.
His only blemish was at No. 15 while holding a four-shot lead, sending his tee shot into the water and two-putting after chipping to within 10 feet.
“The pressure was all on the front nine and I said to myself that if I can get through No. 14 a few ahead it would be easier coming down,” Noren said. “My driving is the best it’s ever been, so it makes it even easier. This is the best ball-striking day I’ve had in my whole life.”
He acknowledged feeling some tension after entering the third round with a one-stroke lead, then said he expected a tougher task on Sunday.
It turned out to be anything but.
Helped by Hanson and Hansen failing to mount a challenge and Bourdy leaving his surge too late, Noren never looked like he would be caught.
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 champion who was looking to become the first player to retain the title, hit a 71 to improve by 10 strokes on his catastrophic third round. Having trailed by one, he fell 11 off the pace heading into his last competitive round before defending his U.S. Open title.
McDowell struck the ball well in making three straight birdies from No. 9, but four bogeys showed his game still needs some finessing.
“The damage was done yesterday and it was just about trying to repair some of the damage today,” McDowell said. “I have work to do between now and Congressional.”
Elliot Saltman, who returned to the tour last month after serving a three-month ban for incorrectly marking his ball, will leave with happier memories after hitting his second hole-in-one of the tournament in a 69 on Sunday.
“There has been a lot of players out here who have been brilliant and welcomed me back,” Saltman said. “It’s been a long slog.”
The Scot aced No. 17 and then finished with an eagle in Thursday’s opening round. He repeated the feat at the same hole on Sunday but his ensuing eagle putt at the last only just missed the cup.
Eamonn Darcy at the 1991 Mediterranean Open was the last player to hit a hole-in-one twice in the same event.