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Rockliffe's perfect drive tees up bright future
JUST as the final group on the final hole of the final day walked up to their approach shots, the sun fittingly appeared from behind a cloud to light up the 18th green.
Hundreds of spectators followed Steen Tinning, Santiago Luna and Miguel Angel Martin up the fairway at the last to join the strong gathering which had formed to watch the dramatic last putts of the first English Senior Open at Rockliffe Hall.
Following a day of ups and downs, twists and turns, Tinning, the overnight leader following his heroic second round 63 on the Saturday, held his nerve with two putts to claim his second title of the year.
“It's a dream I don't ever want to wake up from,” said the likeable man from Copenhagen, sporting bright blue trousers and a smile as wide as the nearby River Tees as he held his arms in the air to celebrate his triumph.
His comments could quite easily have been uttered by Warwick Brindle, Rockliffe Hall's chairman, or managing director, Nick Holmes. Four years after the first tee shot was played, the County Durham course's first crack at becoming a Tour venue was over.
Overnight leader Peter Mitchell on the fairway of the first on day two
In a little more than six weeks since being confirmed as a host for the revived English Senior Open, almost every box was ticked and every bit of feedback favourable. This may have been the first Tour event to pay a visit, but it will not be the last.
Already a date has been pencilled in for a Bank Holiday weekend next August for its return in the height of summer. “Ooh, that's good, there'll be even more who come to watch that year,” said one onlooker standing by the 18th green after Tinning held up his title-winning commemorative plate.
It is hard to disagree. Word should soon pass around North-East clubs that Rockliffe Hall was worth a visit this week. From Beamish Park to Blackwell Grange and from Matfen Hall to Mount Oswald, golfers from across the region should be thinking about tickets for next year.
There were delightful drives, incredible irons, duck hooks and memorable saves during three days of brilliant golf in which the experienced pros the wrong side of 50 showed age is no barrier in golf - on a course brilliantly crafted by head greenkeeper Pete Newton and his team.
Rockliffe's Roger Roper with his caddy on day two
Whether it was Rockliffe's very own Roger Roper bouncing back from the frustration of losing his caddy on the first tee or seeing former Ryder Cup player Barry Lane soaked in the sink before Peter Mitchell led the way with a stunning 66, day one had plenty drama.
Moving day was all about Tinning's ability to make mince meat out of one of the toughest courses around to set a new record of 63 on a Saturday when Terry Price's 80 proved Rockliffe was no walkover.
“I would never have predicted anyone let alone me would have been capable of shooting a 63 around here, I still can't believe I did that,” said Tinning, after smashing the previous best of 66 set by Cumbrian club pro Craig Goodfellow before being equalled by Mitchell.
The leaderboard at the 18th shows a close race for the title
All of those highlights before Tinning and Santiago Luna's topsy-turvy battle for supremacy over the final 18 holes yesterday, when more than 2,000 spectators stayed around to keep an eye on a nail-biting back nine.
Luna looked like he had the title in his bag after a two-shot swing on the 11th when Tinning bogeyed after landing in a bunker at the short par three.
Steen Tinning in the bunker on the 11th
Even though Tinning felt his chance had gone, he responded in resilient fashion to claw back the lead with a third successive eagle of the tournament at the 12th. Back-to-back birdies through 16 and 17 meant he had a one-shot lead starting the last.
There were sighs and groans as the scoreboard on the 18th had a change of leader – again. With many believing the first Senior Tour Open at Rockliffe would end in a play-off.
Santiago Luna thanks the crowd after narrowly missing out on the title
But after both golfers landed within ten-feet of the pin, neither holed out first time and pars were recorded by both to leave Tinning celebrating. He was not the only one.
Steen Tinning celebrates after holing his winning putt on the 18th
Rockliffe Hall wanted the last few days to feel like they had put on an event around their exceptionally crafted Marc Westenborg course – and must feel as if they have hit the perfect drive. All eyes on August.
Steen Tinning with the English Senior Open trophy
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