CHRIS Paisley claimed his maiden European Challenge Tour title as a one-under-par final round of 71 left the Englishman two shots clear of compatriot Francis McGuirk on 16 under par in the English Challenge at Stoke-by-Nayland.
The 26-year-old entered the final day with a three-shot lead after an incredible third round in which an albatross two at the par five 16th put him into pole position, but for a brief period it looked like the victory might slip from his grasp.
McGuirk gained four shots in as many holes midway through his front nine to join Paisley at the top and pile the pressure on the Newcastle man, but the 38-year-old immediately followed that purple patch with a double bogey at the seventh, after the first of two play suspensions due to lightning.
Paisley then proceeded to birdie the ninth and 10th holes to increase the gap at the top to four and, while he dropped a shot each at the 11th and 12th, he pulled himself together to birdie the 14th and 16th holes.
McGuirk effectively played his way out of the title chase with a bogey at the 11th and a double bogey at the 13th, despite clawing his way back to within four shots with a birdie at the 15th and an eagle at the 16th.
Paisley still had the luxury of bogeying the final two holes as the sun reared its head for one final time on a day which had blazing sunshine as well as heavy thunderstorms, and the former Walker Cup player expressed his delight at his first victory.
“I’m overjoyed obviously,” said Paisley, who moves to sixth in the Challenge Tour Rankings. “It’s a little of relief too. It probably looked quite straight forward on the leaderboard because I was quite a bit ahead most of the day but it was tough to be honest.
“I wasn’t at my best so I was grinding for pars a lot of the time. I managed to take advantage of the holes that I did play well at but I’m really happy to get my first win.
“I was nervous the whole way around but I got a steady start and it did give me a bit of confidence to roll a 12 footer in on the third. But the nerves stayed there until the end to be honest because of the way I was grinding.
“This has given me a great shot of getting my European Tour card now. I was in a pretty good position before this week but to get a win, it shoots me up there and who knows what I can do now.”
Paisley insisted that even when he holed his second shot at the par five 16th hole for albatross on the third day, he took nothing for granted but admitted that it was the little bit of luck that would drive him on to win.
“I never thought it was definitely my week,” he said. “You definitely get a little feeling though. They say you need a bit of luck to win a tournament so it certainly gave me a good feeling about it. There was still a long way to go today and even down the stretch I was just making sure I finished it off.”
McGuirk, meanwhile, claimed his best finish of the season thanks to a roller-coaster two-under-par round of 70 which included two eagles and two double bogeys to eventually finish as the runner up on 14 under and, having not made a cut all season, he was delighted with how he played.
“I’m really happy with my week,” said McGuirk. “Considering where I’ve come from this year – I haven’t been playing too well – it’s nice to finally put in a good performance this year.”
Espen Kofstad continued his good run of form after winning in Italy last week, as he claimed third spot thanks to a one under par final round of 71, finishing two shots behind McGuirk.
The Norwegian now sits just one place behind Paisley in the Challenge Tour Rankings and said he is delighted with his game at the moment.
“I just kept going with what I was doing last week,” said the 24 year old. “It seems like I have my mind in the right place and I’m very proud of what I’ve done this week and last week.
“Things have just clicked a little for me and I can put four rounds of golf together now, which I was struggling to do, so I’m just going to keep going with it.”
Nick Dougherty claimed his best finish since the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Classic in March as he carded a three under par final round of 69 to finish in fourth place on 11 under par, while James Busby and Matthew Nixon finished in tied fifth spot a shot further back.
Leading scores: 272 C Paisley (Eng) 68 68 65 71; 274 F McGuirk (Eng) 66 71 67 70; 276 E Kofstad (Nor) 70 68 67 71; 277 N Dougherty (Eng) 70 69 69 69; 278 M Nixon (Eng) 69 68 70 71, J Busby (Eng) 69 68 67 74; 280 P Uihlein (USA) 73 68 70 69, J Grillon (Fra) 67 70 74 69, J Walters (RSA) 73 71 70 66, R Dinwiddie (Eng) 65 65 77 73, M Korhonen (Fin) 70 69 72 69, B Koepka (USA) 72 66 67 75, M Haines (Eng) 68 69 69 74,