Hedblom in surprise first victory

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The Independent Online
Peter Hedblom took the road to Morocco with no greater ambition than to make the half-way cut. Yesterday, he won the championship - his first Tour victory - in the most impressive style possible by leading from the front. The 26-year-old Swede led by a stroke after the first round, by four after the second, by four after the third and won by one. At times his swing wavered from the arc, but nobody overtook him.

Hedblom shot a level-par 72 in the final round to finish at seven under par for the tournament, a stroke in front of Argentina's Eduardo Romero and two in front of the South African Wayne Westner and the Spaniard Santiago Luna. Romero, who suffers from vertigo until he gets near the top of a leader board, partnered Hedblom yesterday and was the only player to put the Swede under real pressure. Romero shot 69, but even a birdie four at the last could not knock Hedblom off the rostrum.

"This means everything to me," Hedblom, who won pounds 58,330, said. "I've spent my whole life dreaming about this moment. I can't say I enjoyed it and I felt the pressure, but I think I handled it pretty good." Hedblom, twice a runner-up, is the son of a golf professional from Gavle. With two feet of snow on the ground, he has spent the last few months practising indoors. When he celebrated his 25th birthday last year, his friends pitched him into a boxing ring against a Swedish champion and the legacy was a bruised rib and pneumonia. "I'm not afraid of getting hurt," he said. "Life's too short."

One thing that is not too short is Hedblom's putter, a strange-looking club that is a cross between an orthodox putter and the extra long broom- handle job. Hedblom cobbled together the club at home, using glue to fix the shaft. That nestles against his left forearm. "I putt with it a lot better under pressure," he said. When Romero began to close the gap over the back nine yesterday, it was Hedblom's short game, over a course that requires a considerable long game, that kept him on track.

So far this year, the European Tour has looked like a package tour in the rainy season. Five star it is not. Nick Faldo is in America, Seve Ballesteros cannot hit anything but a cork tree, Colin Montgomerie is dieting, Bernhard Langer is resting and Jose-Maria Olazabal is limping out of everything.

Olazabal had the world at his feet two years ago when he won the Masters at Augusta; now his feet cannot carry him beyond 18 holes. The 29-year- old Spaniard, regarded by Ballesteros as the best player in the world, has withdrawn from the Desert Classic in Dubai which starts on Thursday and it would come as no surprise if he did not play in the Masters next month. Despite a number of operations to cure a variety of problems with toes on his right foot, he still cannot walk properly and therefore cannot play in a 72-hole strokeplay tournament without being severely handicapped.

While the superstars are drifting down the Milky Way, the sky is the limit for the cluster of new, young faces on the Tour. It is not easy. The first thing they should take is a rain cheque. The South African PGA Championship in Johannesburg was curtailed to 54 holes by torrential rain and last week the Open Catalonia was restricted to two rounds by howling gales. What you need on this tour is an insurance policy to cover drowning or involuntary hang-gliding.

At least the Moroccan Open, saturated by intermittent downpours, finished on schedule. Those who did not make the half-way cut on Friday had to stay in Rabat until last night when they could return to London on a charter flight. Even those who did well here cannot get into the tournament in Dubai.

Francis Howley, who finished joint 14th, earned his first cheque yesterday since gaining his Tour card at the Qualifying School last November. Howley plays at Milltown, near Dublin, and prior to yesterday had not won a penny in three events. He was about pounds 7,000 out of pocket and he reckons he has earned a lot more than the pounds 4,742.86, he won here.

In the third round he played with Romero and in the fourth with Sam Torrance. "It was a great experience," Howley said. "I didn't think the Tour would be this tough. When you don't make the cut, you wonder where it will ever end. Sam told me that he didn't make the cut in his first nine tournaments. The really important thing is that when you play against these people you realise you are as good as them." Sometimes better.

MOROCCAN OPEN (Royal Dar es Salaam, Rabat) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 281 P Hedblom (Swe) 68 67 74 72. 282 E Romero (Arg) 72 74 67 69. 283 W Westner (SA) 71 72 72 68; S Luna (Sp) 73 69 72 69. 286 I Woosnam 72 73 71 70; C Rocca (It) 70 75 69 72; T Johnstone (Zim) 70 73 70 73; 288 M Gronberg (Swe) 75 70 72 71; 289 S Ames (Trin) 75 70 75 69; M Tunnicliff 71 72 74 72; T Planchin (Fr) 74 69 72 74; P Mitchell 71 72 71 75; R Russell 69 74 70 76. 290 F Howley 72 74 74 70; A Collison 72 72 74 72; P Nyman (Swe) 73 73 72 72; R Goosen (SA) 71 72 74 73; J M Canizares (Sp) 75 73 69 73; J McHenry 70 73 72 75; D A Russell 74 71 70 75.