England’s Jodi Ewart held her overnight lead to claim a two stroke victory at the Ladies European Tour’s Final Qualifying School for the 2012 season.
A closing round of level par 73 on the South Course at La Manga Club in Spain gave the 24-year-old North Yorkshire woman an 11 under par aggregate total, with Swiss amateur Anais Maggetti at nine under and Spain’s Carlota Ciganda five strokes further back in third.
However, it was further down the leader board where the drama unfolded at the end of the day after six players tied for 29th position on seven over par.
The six players headed back out to the seventh tee to begin a sudden death play-off for two places, to establish who would secure the last spots inside the top 30, eligible for category 8a membership of the LET.
The Spanish duo of Laura Cabanillas and Mireia Prat competed against India’s Sharmila Nicollet, England’s Hannah Burke, Germany’s Miriam Nagl and Scotland’s Carly Booth.
Cabanillas, an 11-year veteran of the tour, holed a 12-footer for birdie to take the 29th card available at the par-four seventh hole, while the remaining five players went to the eighth tee.
Booth fell short after driving into a fairway bunker and having to lay up on the par four, eventually taking a bogey five along with Nagl and both players were eliminated. Burke, Nicollet and Prat all had four and went to the par-five ninth tee.
The drama was completed when Nicollet, who co-led after the first round, two-putted for a birdie four from the right edge of the ninth green to earn the 30th card. The other two players could not match her score.
After holing a six-foot putt, her smile lit up the stunning venue and the 20-year-old from the south of Bangalore said: “I feel so excited. I played well under pressure and I mean, I didn’t hit the fairway the first two play-off holes and I made a recovery after that and in the end it was a great feeling. I’m so overwhelmed right now.”
Nicollet will be the only player from India with full playing rights on the Ladies European Tour this season and she was justifiably proud of her achievement.
“My goal was to get on the tour and this is my first time in Spain for the qualifier so I think it’s a big achievement for me. To be playing in Europe will be my next immediate goal. I hope to play all the tournaments and maybe move here because I have family in Paris and my dad stays there so maybe I will move there and play all the tournaments. I’m just so happy and excited. It’s been a long two weeks and it’s been a long wait and fingers crossed for the season.”
There was also delight for Cabanillas, who had her boyfriend, former European Tour player Manuel Quiros, acting as her caddie.
On her pressure putt on the first play-off hole, she said: “I had confidence because Manolo helped me with the line and it’s easier to putt like this. I worked very hard on the back nine because I was very nervous on the first one. I am very happy now.”
Top ranked Ewart was pleased to have capped a gruelling fortnight with the victory, having resisted the urge to look at the scoreboards all week.
“It feels good. I mean, fourth on the LPGA and now winning the LET: it’s a pretty good off-season if you ask me. It feels good and I’m really looking forward to this year.”
On her round, she explained: “It started off slowly and then I holed a putt on nine for birdie, so that kicked things off and then I shoved one in the water off 16 and had a double so I had no idea how far ahead I was just trying to make birdies coming in but it looks like par was good enough.
“I was a little bit nervous because I knew I was leading but I didn’t know how many shots ahead I was so if I’d known it would have set me back a bit. I think coming from yesterday, I kind of got away from my plan and it was all about me and the golf ball: that was the priority today.
“After I holed the putt on 14 I really relaxed and felt good. The putting was slow on the front nine but I holed some coming in. I don’t know where that shot on 16 came from.”
Ewart plans to head home to Florida before beginning her season at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Royal Melbourne.
Second placed Maggetti, who now plans to turn professional, expects her first tournament start to be at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco in late March.
After making several appearances in professional tournaments over the last few years, Ciganda was delighted to be able to play a full schedule. She will first play in the Gold Coast RACV Australian Ladies Masters, beginning on 2nd February, before trying to qualify for the Australian Open and then heading to New Zealand.
“I am very happy and I have the card so this year I have a schedule now and very happy to play in Europe. I was relaxed and just trying to play my game: just fairways and greens and if the putts went into the hole then it was fine otherwise just pars, so I played very well,” she said.
There are 15 nationalities represented by the top 30 qualifiers and the USA leads the way with eight players, followed by France with four, England and Spain with three each and two players from the Netherlands. Yu Yang Zhang is set to become the LET’s first Chinese representative. Of the top 30 qualifiers, 16 players will be rookies on the Ladies European Tour this year.