Scott Hend looked set to make amends for his 2016 play-off loss to Alex Noren at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club in Switzerland on Sunday, after resuming his weather delayed third round and extending his lead to three shots heading into the fourth round of the Omega European Masters.
The Queenslander started the final round at 12 under par but two early bogeys brought him within reach of the chasing pack, headed up by 23-year-old Englishman and eventual winner Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick went out in three-under while Hend managed to right the ship and maintain a one shot lead heading into the final nine holes in the Swiss Alps.
With back-to-back par-5s at the 14th and 15th holes, the advantage appeared to be in the favour of the big hitting Queenslander, who was a combined five-under for the two holes through the first three rounds.
But it was former US Amateur champion Fitzpatrick who took advantage of the long holes, reaching both in two and making birdies before a third consecutive birdie at the par-3 16th hole earnt him a two shot lead.
The 44-year-old Australian only managed par at the 14th but his birdie at the next, combined with Fitzpatrick’s bogey on the 17th hole two groups ahead, meant Hend was once again tied for the lead at 14-under, having led since firing a 6 under par 66 in the opening round.
Fitzpatrick said after the round that he believed the error at the penultimate hole would prove a costly blow.
“I was saying to Jamie (caddy), 'I think 17 might have cost us today' but it's just one of those things. It's never nice to see but we kept our nerve and just played really smart all week,” he said.
Fitzpatrick found the 18th green in regulation but failed to convert his birdie chance leaving his fate in Hend’s experienced hands. The Australian found one of the right hand fairway bunkers from the tee at the 72nd hole, needing a birdie for victory or a par 4 to force sudden death.
Hend executed his bunker shot to near perfection to find the putting surface and give himself a chance to avoid a second play-off in as many years. But his birdie attempt slid by on the right hand side.
The players returned to the 18th and it was the Aussie who had the first real chance to separate the deadlock. Hend hit his approach to six-feet on the second play-off hole but missed the short putt. Sending the players back to the 18th hole for a third time.
Hend again found sand from the tee and missed the green long with his second. The Queenslander’s chip then raced across the putting surface, barely avoiding the water on the other side, meaning Fitzpatrick’s third straight par in the play-off was good enough to secure victory.
“I had the opportunity and I didn’t take it. It’s just what happens when you don’t take your opportunities,” Hend lamented after his play-off defeat.
The win in the Swiss mountains was a special one for the young Englishman with his parents on site for his fourth European Tour victory at a course where he was runner-up in 2015.
"I'm delighted," Fitzpatrick said after edging out Hend. "It's one that I've always wanted to win. I love playing this golf course, from the first ever year I came as an invite in 2014 it's one that has really stood out on my schedule and I always want to come back and play.”
Hend’s Olympic teammate, Marcus Fraser, played alongside him in the final round but a two-over 72 relegated him to a tie for 20th while Todd Sinnott was the next best of the Aussies. The 25-year-old will rue a final round 74 that included back-to-back eagles at the 14th and 15th holes and dropped him into a share of 44th.
Brett Rumford, Sam Brazel, Jason Scrivener and Nathan Holman all made the weekend but failed to make any significant climbs up the leaderboard.