Liam Johnston claimed his first European Challenge Tour title by beating close friend and room-mate Grant Forrest by one hole in the final match to win at the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9.
The Scotsman had to battle against his fellow countryman to seal the victory on the final hole at Valle Romano Golf in just his third European Challenge Tour event.
The 25 year old started the second day of knockout games in scintillating form as he surged past José-Filipe Lima 3&2 in the quarter final. Up next for Johnston was Italian Jacopo Vecchi Fasso in the semi finals, where the pair visited the ninth hole five times during the play-off before the Scot came out on top.
The buzz from his semi final success was still evident when the final commenced as he won the first two holes. However, Forrest’s amateur career involved the 2015 Walker Cup triumph and the 2013 Palmer Cup win, and that paid dividends as Johnston’s lead was cut to one.
The birdies continued to drop during the contest but the chat between the friends was at a minimum with a tournament victory at stake.
Forrest’s brilliant putt on the seventh hole brought the match level with two to play, but Johnston kept his cool to make par on the eighth while Forrest could only make bogey.
After six visits to the ninth hole, Johnston did not want to make it anymore than he needed to and closed out the match play final with a par to match Forrest and claim his debut Challenge Tour title.
His brilliant beginning to life on the Challenge Tour has already surpassed his goals for 2018 and now the Scotsman can enjoy his season, especially after a tough battle with a long-time friend.
“It’s a dream come true, to be fair. It’s a stepping stone towards where I want to be in golf,” he said. “It has totally exceeded my expectations for the year, as I started out with no status on the Challenge Tour and playing off invites.
“To get the win so early is fantastic and the fact I’m now able to play the remainder of the season of the Challenge Tour means I’m in a good spot for the rest of the year.
“It was obviously tough as I’ve known Grant for a long time. But it’s golf and you’ve just got to hope it works out in the end. It did make it a bit tougher as you want him to do well as well, but once it’s down to one versus one, you have to get on with it.
“In earlier rounds a lot went down to the wire or the last hole. I knew pressures it would take, and I had already played the last hole six or seven times. Fortunately, it worked out for me.”
Elsewhere at Valle Romano Golf, in-form Stuart Manley, who Forrest dispatched on his way to the final, took third place after a 2&1 victory over Vecchi Fasso. While Frenchman Jérôme Lando Casanova won 2&1 to take fifth over Alfredo Garcia Heredia, as Manuel Quiros surged to victory over José-Filipe Lima 3&1 to claim seventh.
Johnston’s victory in Spain sees him rocket up the Road to Ras Al Khaimah Rankings from 120th to ninth, while Forrest jumps up to 12th from 70th.