Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia produced a spectacular finish to a sensational season to win the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final at Almouj Golf, Muscat, topping the Road to Oman Rankings in the process to become European Challenge Tour Number One.
The 23-year old came into the season-ending finale, narrowly ahead of good friend Sebastien Gros at the top of the Rankings but finished the season like a true champion, bouncing back from a bogey after missing a short putt on the ninth to set the Greg Norman-designed course alight down the back nine with five birdies in a row from the 12th to sign for a seven-under 65 for 13-under-par winning total of 275, one stroke clear of Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen.
“I have no words to describe how I’m feeling right now,” said Gouveia, who played a delightful chip out of the greenside bunker at the last and followed up with an assured five footer for par to seal the victory. “I just got my rhythm back in the middle of the round and the putter was really hot on the back nine. I holed a lot of putts including probably the most important one on 18 to secure the win.”
The NBO event, having been the penultimate tournament on the European Challenge Tour Schedule in 2013 and 2014, was this year promoted to the season-ending Grand Final, open only to the top 45 players, while this season also marked the rebranding of the season-long prize money contest to the ‘Road to Oman Rankings’. As well as playing for a sizeable prize fund of €375,000, with €64,000 for the winner, the top 15 players on the Rankings after the NBO were awarded cards to play on next season’s European Tour.
Although Gouveia entered the tournament already assured of promotion, he admitted that he was proud to become the first ever winner of the ‘Oman Double’ after enjoying a wonderful week of traditional Omani hospitality in Muscat.
“It’s great to close out both trophies – the Road to Oman and the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final – that was my goal for the week so I’m proud to have achieved it,” said Gouveia who also received a €30,000 Bonus for topping the Rankings to take his prize money total for the season to a record €251,591.
“I think the Road to Oman has been a great success and this is the best venue we visit all year. It’s the best course, the best welcome and the best set up. I really like coming here, the weather’s always perfect. I think it makes great sense for the Grand Final to be here and I’m glad it’s going to be staying here for at least the next few years.
“The National Bank of Oman team have been amazing, they’re all so welcoming and friendly. I played with Humayun Kabir, (General Manager of Wholesale Banking) from NBO in the pro-am and he’s a great guy who loves golf and it’s great to have people like that behind this tournament.
“I’d also like to thanks his His Highness Sayyid Shihab bin Tariq Al Said for supporting such an amazing event – all the players have talked about how great it’s been – and also the sponsors, especially NBO and Oman Air, without whom this wouldn’t have been possible.”
His Highness Sayyid Shihab bin Tariq Al Said, Advisor to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said said:
“Any sport of such an international caliber requires support from the private sector and I’m delighted that NBO has sponsored this very high profile global event here in Oman which has brought us the best Challenge Tour players from various countries around the world. I’m very pleased to see the sport of golf start to develop rapidly here in Oman. We currently have five golf courses and we’re expecting this number to increase in the future.
“This tournament has helped us to grow golf in Oman and to promote tourism and put the Sultanate on the global map.”
Gouveia’s victory was the highlight of a day of intense drama at Almouj Golf. With 15 European Tour cards up for grabs, a birdie here or a bogey there could be the difference between elation and deflation.
Runner-up Hansen, who held a five-way share of the lead heading into the final round, closed with a silky five-under 67 for a 12-under-par total to take fifth place on the final Road to Oman Rankings having been 17th heading into the tournament.
Denmark’s Jeff Winther fired a closing round of six-under 66 to finish the tournament in a share of third place at 11-under-par to leap from 18th into the ‘Golden 15’ at 11th place.
England’s Callum Shinkwin joined Winther and Spain’s Nacho Elvira in third place to rocket from 23rd to 13th in the Rankings while South Africa’s Branden Stone finished a shot further back in sixth place after signing for 68 to move from 19th to 14th on the Road to Oman.
Meanwhile, there was heartache for Ryan Fox, John Hahn, Daniel Im and Haydn Porteous who all dropped out of the top 15 to miss out on a European Tour place.
David Williams, Chairman of The European Tour, who was in Muscat to watch the thrilling conclusion to the Challenge Tour season, said: “We see tournaments around the world and I have to say this was an exceptionally run, exceptionally hosted and exceptionally played tournament. You should be proud of yourself Oman.”