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Simon Thornton beat Tjaart van der Walt on the first play-off hole at the St Omer Open

Updated: Sunday, 16 Jun 2013 19:30 | Comments

A maiden no more: a par on the first play-off hole was enough to give Simon Thornton victory
A maiden no more: a par on the first play-off hole was enough to give Simon Thornton victory

Irishman Simon Thornton, 36, claimed his first win on the European Tour this afternoon as he beat Tjaart van der Walt on the first play-off hole at the St Omer Open.

With many of the Tour's big names at Merion for the US Open, this tournament had slipped somewhat under the radar but Thornton and Van der Walt provided some high drama in northern France.

The overnight leaders both fired closing 70s to finish on five under, one shot clear of Seve Benson, who had led at one point.

That meant they had to go back up the 18th and while Thornton claimed a routine par with a tap-in, Van der Walt bogeyed the hole for the first time this week to hand him the title.

Former assistant pro at Royal County Down, Thornton had got off to a flying start with birdies at the first and third before a dropped shot at four.

He dropped a shot at seven but quickly recovered it at the next before a further bogey on nine got him to the turn in level-par 36.

He then birdied 10 and parred all the way home to finish on five under.

Van der Walt also birdied the first but dropped the shot at five before a double bogey at eight sandwiched by two birdies kept him level for the front nine.

A further birdie on 12 followed but a run of pars saw the South African into the play-off.

The tournament counts on both the Challenge Tour and the main European Tour and, thus, the victory earns Thornton European Tour exemption as well as a cheque for €83,000.

"It's so big for me," said a tearful Thornton. "On father's day too, he passed away three years ago and it still hurts, but they are happy tears today. This is dedicated to him.

"I didn't play particularly well today in perfect conditions but I got up and down when I had to and holed good putts.

"On the last putt - I had been saying to myself all day, if I'm going to make it easy for myself I need to try on every putt and make sure it goes where you want to hit it - so I just picked a line and willed it in and it dropped."

Thornton is no mood to rest on his laurels and hopes to build on his first win.

"Hopefully this is a stepping stone for me," said Thornton. "I'll go home this week now and celebrate, take a week off, and then play in the Irish Open.

"To come here and play like I did is incredible. What happens now with this category is fantastic, it's mad how things have changed. It's surreal."

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