Golf: Park equals record with first Tour win

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DAVID PARK rounded off the most exciting week of his life in thrilling fashion yesterday with a nail-biting victory in the European Grand Prix at this Northumberland course.

The Welsh rookie, who turned 25 on Friday, lost out a week ago in a marathon play-off in the Moroccan Open to the Spaniard Miguel Angel Martin.

But, in the rainy conditions, Park went one better to seal a last-gasp victory on the 18th hole against David Carter. Victory in only his second event on the European Tour means the young Welshman has equalled the record set by Greg Norman, who achieved the same thing in 1977.

Carter, the South African-born player from Chesterfield, was faced with a six-foot putt for par on the final hole but was inches wide. Park, based in Hereford, had a slightly shorter distance but conquered his nerves to sink his putt.

Not only was it a dream come true for Park, but one he can hardly have expected so quickly after losing in Agadir. Indeed, after the adrenalin and energy he expended in Morocco it was expected Park would miss this week's tournament.

He did not, and has probably never made a better decision. As well as pounds 108,330 in prize money, the victory earns him a place in next month's Open at Carnoustie and a full European tour card with a two-year qualifying exemption.

At the start of the final hole Park and Carter were both on 14 under par - the score on which they started the day - after a round in which their nervousness was increased by the South African Retief Goosen, who closed to within a single stroke of the leading two.

After having little chance to relax during their round, the pair knew they each had to make a par four on the 18th to beat Goosen, who recorded seven birdies in his score of 66. It was exhilarating stuff and a crowd of almost 5,000 braved the weather to watch Park register his spectacular win.

A play-off seemed on the cards when both reached the green until Carter missed a putt he would normally have sunk with ease. It meant the 27-year- old narrowly missed adding another title to the Murphy's Irish Open he won last year.

Park will have to give up a portion of his prize money - instead of a sponsor he has a dozen or so far-sighted shareholders who have contributed a substantial amount to his playing costs and will share his winnings in what promises to be a lucrative career.

On hearing of his Open entry, Park said: "I'd better get some practice in, that will be a tough trial. I knew about the exemption and it seems a lot of good news is coming in."

Of his winning shot he added: "It was an uphill putt running left to right. I concentrated on a good putt and it snuck into the corner.

"The course is always tricky at the best of times but it was playing a lot tougher today."

Carter who, like his rival of the four days, equalled the course record of 65 said: "I could not believe I missed the putt at the last. But it was great playing with David and we had a good rapport today."

The dropped shot meant Carter shared the pounds 72,210 runners-up cheque with Goosen, which moves the latter to the top of the Volvo Order of Merit, ahead of Colin Montgomerie in second place.

Scores, Digest, page 9