In one sense, Jordan Smith’s quest for a second DP World Tour victory was a triumph of persistence and fortitude.
Smith had, after all, finished in the top three seven times since his first win at the 2017 European Open (two of them earlier this season), and he was growing tired of being asked when he’d finally lift another trophy.
In another sense, he’ll be breathing a huge sigh of relief that he lost patience with a cautious plan to overhaul his putting at the end of the season and instead put a new grip/new putter combination in play last week on Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura, Portugal.
Always an exceptional exponent of the long game, with a suddenly red-hot putter in hand the Englishman carded 62-67-62-63 for a 30-under-par total of 254 and wire-to-wire three-shot victory in the Portugal Masters.
With little wind all week, the course proved conducive to low scoring, but consider the plight of runner-up Gavin Green. The Malaysian finished the week on 27-under, fully five blows clear of third-placed Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland, and yet he spent the week chasing the 29-year-old Smith, who defeated the after-effects of flu as well as the field.
After dedicating the win to the family of a recently deceased friend, Smith conceded that the wait for win No. 2 had been difficult.
“There was a lot of pressure that I put on myself and that people had put on me as well,” he said. “I’m just really happy with how I’ve done this year and to finally get another win.”
Among those who went into the weekend with an outside chance of salvation were multiple tour winners Joost Luiten, David Horsey and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
As always in the final regular-season event, a subplot for playing rights next season emerged. The top 117 in the Race to Dubai rankings secure 2023 cards. Though not one player moved from outside that number to inside it, there was plenty of drama along the way.
Among those who went into the weekend with an outside chance of salvation were multiple tour winners Joost Luiten, David Horsey and Kiradech Aphibarnrat. David Drysdale, the 47-year-old Scotsman, competed in his 574th tournament on the circuit and remains in search of a first win. All four will return to Qualifying School next month.
Renato Paratore endured the cruellest denial. The 25-year-old Italian, a two-time winner on the circuit, entered the week ranked 121st and drained a 58-foot birdie putt on the final green for a 14-under total that eventually would earn him a top-20 result and, so he thought when it dropped, safety in the rankings. Alas, he moved up only three spots as Spain’s Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez, who missed the cut, somehow ended the week as he started it, holding the final card for next year.
While those players fretted over their seasonal positions, Germany’s Sebastian Heisele found himself freed of such fears.
It didn’t matter to the 34-year-old that he was outside the top 200 because he was always bidding farewell to tour golf and yet paradoxically found himself playing in Sunday’s final group.
“I’m just here to enjoy myself. Even a win would not change anything for me,” he explained to Sky Sports’ Tim Barter after the third round. “I’ll be moving on to coaching. I’ve loved my time here, but that’s going to be it.” He paused to compose himself before adding: “It means a lot to walk off with a good week.”
He stood firm in the final round. A 69 confirmed a share of fifth and a fond farewell to competitive action.