Golf: Fantasy on the 18th for Fernandez - Argentinian veteran turns somersaults after 75-foot victory putt

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The Independent Online
VICENTE FERNANDEZ missed a putt from two and a half feet at the first hole and by the 18th he was doing somersaults. The 46-year-old from Buenos Aires hit a two-iron on to the final green in the Murphy's English Open and the ball came to rest about 75 feet below the flagstick. He was so far away he could not even see the hole. But his ball did.

It dropped unerringly into the cup. There was an enormous roar from the crowd and their appreciation confirmed Fernandez's finest thoughts. About the only thing he did not do was throw himself into the lake. He threw his arms into the air - oh, about 40 times - and then performed a series of gymnastics that could have got him into the medals at the Olympic Games.

One of the longest putts on record (it went uphill and broke a yard and a half from right to left) gave Fernandez a birdie three and a round of 69. On 283 for the championship he was five under par and that outrageous stroke at the 72nd hole won him the tournament and pounds 91,660 by one shot from the two young Swedes, Per-Ulrik Johansson and Fredrik Lindgren.

'I still can't believe it,' Fernandez said. 'I'll have to get the tape from the BBC to see what happened.' There is hope for every grey-haired golfer in the world. Not only that. Fernandez was born with a paralysed right leg. 'I loved football but I couldn't play it,' he said. Yesterday Ossie Ardiles, the manager of West Bromwich Albion, followed Fernandez around The Belfry, a little South American support.

The English Open is Fernandez's fifth victory on the European Tour, the last being in the Tenerife Open two years ago. When he won the PGA Championship in 1979 he won pounds 8,000. Yesterday he said he was feeling, and playing, better than 20 years ago.

'I used to have to save energy to get round,' he said. In recent years he has taken up weightlifting, three days a week and, in his case, it has fortified the over-forties. 'I had a fantastic feeling,' Fernandez said. 'I used to be a very good putter but I haven't putted well for the last four or five years. This week I felt a lot better. Because of my age this was one of the most important days of my life.'

When he looked at that huge putt on the 18th he, and anybody else, would have been satisfied in getting down in two. 'Two putts from there,' he thought. Had he done so it would have put him into a play-off with the Swedish combo. 'I had a funny feeling,' Fernandez said. 'I was saying to myself, 'If you've got to hole it don't leave it short'.' Leave it short, my foot. How would he know? He could not even see the hole.

'To win you don't only have to play well, you have to be lucky,' Fernandez said. Maybe, but when it mattered he made the scores, not only at the 18th but also at the 17th, which he also birdied after hitting a sand wedge to two feet. What a story he has to tell his readers.

Fernandez is employed by Argentina's La Nacion newspaper as a roving correspondent. 'I'll just tell them what I've done,' he said. 'It's very difficult to talk about yourself.' This one writes itself.

When he won in Tenerife in 1990, his first victory in Europe for 11 years, a group of British players and caddies formed a guard of honour. 'I'll always remember their cheers,' he said. The moment was significant because Fernandez chose not to play on the European Tour during the Falklands war.

Fernandez began the day in joint fifth place, three strokes behind the leaders, Lindgren and Johansson, and he overhauled the Swedes on the last two holes. Johansson and Lindgren both shot 73, the former dropping a crucial stroke at the penultimate hole, where he took six.

'I feel terrible,' Johansson said. 'I feel like I lost it but at least a nice guy won.' Johansson's right. In a week when Europe's finest and richest players chose to stay at home, the acrobatics on the 18th green of an Argentinian who has been a professional since 1964 raised the spirits of everybody who witnessed it. Place your order for La Nacion now.

MURPHY'S ENGLISH OPEN (The Belfry) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 283 V Fernandez (Arg) 69 72 73 69. 284 F Lindgren (Swe) 69 68 74 73; P-U Johansson (Swe) 71 68 72 73. 285 B Lane 70 69 78 68. 286 B Ogle (Aus) 72 67 75 72; M Roe 69 69 75 73. 287 K Waters 71 69 76 71; S Grappasonni (It) 70 69 74 74. 288 S Luna (Sp) 73 71 74 70. 289 G J Brand 75 71 74 69; R Davis (Aus) 67 72 78 72. 290 C Williams 72 71 80 67; P Way 74 71 74 71; P Mitchell 75 71 73 71. 291 C Montgomerie 71 71 79 70; M Hallberg (Swe) 72 72 77 70; S Field 75 72 74 70; J Townsend (US) 72 75 72 72. 292 M Davis 72 75 74 71; S Tinning (Den) 76 71 73 72; R Lee 75 72 72 73; P O'Malley (Aus) 75 72 71 74; P Price 72 69 77 74. 293 J Rutledge (Can) 74 70 77 72; J Haeggman (Swe) 70 76 75 72; J Robson 75 72 73 73; C Rocca (It) 72 70 77 74; V Singh (Fiji) 73 71 75 74; A Binaghi (It) 73 73 71 76. 294 M McLean 71 73 79 71; A Hunter 73 72 76 73; M Lanner (Swe) 75 71 75 73; R Chapman 72 69 76 77. 295 J Berendt (Arg) 75 71 81 68; A Sorensen (Den) 74 72 79 70; J Van de Velde (Fr) 71 76 77 71; B Gallacher 74 71 77 73; C Mason 75 68 78 74; H Clark 73 71 76 75; S Little 76 70 74 75; S McAllister 70 71 78 76; P Lonard (Aus) 72 74 73 76. 296 T Levet (Fr) 74 71 79 72; D R Jones 72 74 76 74; J Bland (SA) 72 75 75 74; A Murray 70 70 80 76; R Allenby (Aus) 75 70 75 76; G Cali (It) 71 72 76 77. 297 K Dickens 72 73 81 71; S Torrance 75 72 77 73; S Bennett 71 70 82 74; J Parnevik (Swe) 73 71 77 76; P Broadhurst 69 71 80 77; R Winchester 75 66 79 77; J Coceres (Arg) 72 74 74 77. 298 C Moody 72 69 85 72; J Robinson 74 72 76 76; K Trimble (Aus) 74 71 76 77; D Curry 74 73 74 77; R Claydon 73 73 74 78; W Westner (SA) 74 73 73 78. 299 J Rystrom (Swe) 69 78 75 77; S Hamill 73 73 78 75; L Tinkler (Aus) 70 72 74 83. 300 W Grant 75 72 82 71; I Palmer (SA) 76 71 76 77. 301 J McHenry 72 75 80 74; G Levenson (SA) 75 71 79 76.

Order of Merit, Sport in Short, page 33

(Photograph omitted)

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