Graeme Storm was left “speechless” after clinching the greatest triumph of his career.
Just 12 weeks after earning a European Tour reprieve, the Hartlepool golfer went head-to-head with Rory McIlroy and beat the world number two to lift the BMW SA Open title.
This is a dream come true, especially after what happened to me last year with my card.
Storm beat the four-time Major winner at the third hole of their sudden death play-off at Glendower Golf Club in South Africa after fighting out an exciting last-group duel on the final day.
They ended level on 18 under par and they could not be separated after playing the 18th twice in par fours. It was a case of third time lucky for Storm.
He hit his approach to the heart of the green, where he made his par. However, Rory missed the green with his approach.
It left the Irishman with an eight-foot putt for par that missed on the low side, leaving the Poolie as champ.
”I am speechless,” said Storm. “It’s been incredible and I can’t quite believe it.”
The 38-year-old was facing the threat of relegation from the European Tour back in October, when a missed putt at the last hole of the Portugal Masters saw him finish 112th in golf’s order of merit, one place outside the elite.
But when USA star Patrick Reed lost his Tour card, Storm was moved up a place and back into the top 111.
“This is a dream come true, especially after what happened to me last year with my card,” Storm told www.europeantour.com.
“I really took a lot from that experience and told myself to try to grasp the opportunity of getting my livelihood back with both hands and I have done that this week.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. I hung in there and didn’t play my best stuff but I knew if I could hang in there that I might get my chance and thankfully it came.
“It really means everything to me to be in the winner’s circle again.
“I have been to hell and back to be honest with you.
“It’s been an absolute rollercoaster over the last year and a half – especially the end of last year.
“There was pressure [yesterday] but not the same pressure as trying to keep your European Tour card.
“That’s real pressure and something I don’t want to feel for a long time.”
Now he does not have to worry – with this win he’s guaranteed his place until the end of the 2018 season.
Storm had started the day with a three-shot lead over his illustrious partner.
He birdied the third but when he suffered his first bogey in 55 holes, at the par three 14th, it opened the door for McIlroy.
The 27-year-old had started at lightning pace with birdies at the first and second and by the time he got a four at the par five eighth, the duo were level.
And after reeling him in, he took the lead when he birdied the par five 13th which Storm could only par.
Both men birdied the final par five, the 15th, and the tournament favourite closed in on the title.
But McIlroy bogeyed the 200-yard 17th and that brought them back together at 18-under-par.
McIlroy signed for a four-under-par 68 and Storm a one-under-par 71 to set up the dramatic finale with Storm holding his nerve for the championship.
A sporting McIlroy: “Obviously it’s disappointing to finish like that but Graeme has played well all week and what a story it is for him.
“He thought he had lost his card at the end of last year and there he is now standing with a trophy in his hands after the first event of 2017. I’m delighted for him.”