Hat-trick hero Hebert signs off in Grand style

On a day of drama at the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club, it was Benjamin Hebert who wrote his name into the record books, thanks to an emphatic third win of the 2014 European Challenge Tour season.

The Frenchman finished five clear of compatriot Jérôme Lando Casanova on 12 under par thanks to a three under closing 69 on Saturday, a feat which ensured he became the first player in Challenge Tour history to win three titles in one season on two separate occasions.

Few could question the serene way in which Hebert went about his business on the final day, as he built an unassailable lead thanks to five birdies and just two dropped shots, meaning attention soon turned to the battle for a place in an increasingly fluid top 15 on the Rankings.

While Andrew Johnston rubber-stamped his title as the 2014 Challenge Tour Number One with a top ten finish after a level par final round of 72, it was all happening further down the list as dreams were made and hearts were broken.

For much of the day it had looked like Dane Lasse Jensen had done enough to earn his place amongst the graduating class, but five dropped shots in as many holes around the turn put paid to his chances and left the way clear for the charging Lando Casanova, who hit light speed on the final day in Dubai.

The Frenchman started the week with a six over par 78 in the opening round, but a fantastic run over the closing three rounds culminated in a final round 69, which meant he climbed 25 places in the Rankings to 13th place.

It was not all plain sailing for the 29 year old though, thanks to a bogey at the 17th which had seen him drop out of the reckoning for promotion, but a birdie at the last saw him vault back in. He would have to wait anxiously by as Oliver Farr played the last, but when the Welshman hit his tee shot in the water, Lando Casanova’s graduation was all but secure.

As for his compatriot Hebert, he was just pleased to sign off the season in such a positive manner, as he prepares for a second crack at the big time next year.

“It is a perfect end to the season for sure,” said the 27 year old. “I played very well the last three months, but this is a great feeling. I always practice hard and keep myself positive in the bad times, but now everything is OK, and we will have a lot of fun over the next week before I start practicing to improve my game for The European Tour.

“My game is much better than the last time I graduated, but sometimes I still feel so-so on the course, and I have a few bad stretches which I want to fix. If I can sort that out then I feel I can perform well next season.

“It was a hard day, with the wind getting up at the end of the round, but I stayed focused with my caddie and played it shot-by-shot. I had some good birdies on the 14th and 15th which gave me a good advantage, and over the last two holes I was just patient up until the end.

“My goal will be to keep my card next year. I have won six times on the Challenge Tour, but now I want to win on The European Tour. Winning three times in two different seasons has never been done before, which is a great achievement, but I would exchange all of those for one win on The European Tour.

“I’m going to keep it the same for next year, stay focused and play my game, and we’ll see what happens. I had a good winter last year, and I want the same this time around, so if I can do that then it will be OK for next year.”

Lando Casanova may sound like a fictional villain from a Disney movie, but the man with one of the best names in golf proved he is more than just an impressive moniker.

His form over the final 54 holes was nothing short of miraculous, and in every way deserving of a starting berth in The Race to Dubai for 2015.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it is the first time in my career I am happy to be second,” said the Cannes resident. “On the 18th, watching (Oliver) Farr was the longest time of my life, and really, I don’t know what to say as I can’t quite believe it. Maybe when I put my tee in the ground on the first hole on The European Tour, then I will believe it.

“It feels great, but we’ll see how it goes next year. I’m so excited to get out there as soon as I can, and I can’t wait to get home and rest with my family and friends and stop golf for a while. For the moment I don’t care about the schedule for next year, I just want to rest.”

Farr might not have realised the effect his play on the final hole would have had on so many players’ careers, but regardless of his crucial bogey at the last to card a closing 73 and finish six adrift of Hebert, the Welshman will be elated with a third place finish that guarantees a maiden sojourn on The European Tour at the end of an impressive rookie season.

In fourth was the ever-consistent Byeong-hun An (68) who has long been assured of a place on The Race to Dubai in 2015, while Hugues Joannes (70) and Alessandro Tadini (71) rounded out the top five.

In the Rankings, Antonio Hortal was the unfortunate one to miss out in the dreaded 16th spot on the season-long list, after he fell to a 78 on Saturday.

Ben Evans (72) had briefly climbed into the top 15 at the end of his round after Lando Casanova’s bogey at the penultimate hole, but the Frenchman’s crucial four at the last knocked the Englishman back down to 17th.

There was also disappointment for Jensen (77), who had entered the final day inside the top 15 on the provisional list, but eventually missed out.

As for top spot, Johnston always looked like he had it under control having entered the week with a substantial lead, and his tie for ninth at the end of 72 holes in Dubai ensured a return to The European Tour in 2015 thanks to earnings of €190,856 this season, the highest winning total since Edoardo Molinari in 2009.

Final scores:

276 B Hebert  (Fra) 70 69 68 69,
281 J Lando Casanova  (Fra) 78 66 68 69,
282 O Farr (Wal) 69 71 69 73,
283 B An (Kor) 72 71 72 68,
284 H Joannes  (Bel) 74 71 69 70, A Tadini (Ita) 71 75 67 71,
285 C Bouniol (Fra) 78 68 69 70, B Ritthammer (Ger) 72 71 69 73,
286 E Espana (Fra) 70 68 76 72, J Garcia Pinto (Esp) 72 69 70 75, R Coles (Eng) 73 69 70 74, A Johnston (Eng) 73 72 69 72,
287 B Evans  (Eng) 72 73 70 72,
288 J Lagergren (Swe) 78 69 70 71, J Fahrbring (Swe) 71 71 72 74, P Widegren  (Swe) 74 73 68 73, M Tullo (Chi) 68 70 73 77,
289 M Lorenzo-Vera  (Fra) 74 71 73 71, J Huldahl (Den) 76 74 73 66, J Barnes (Eng) 71 73 72 73, S Hutsby  (Eng) 76 74 69 70, L Jensen (Den) 69 75 68 77, A Marshall (Eng) 71 70 72 76, D Gaunt (Eng) 76 73 70 70, P Oriol (Esp) 75 71 72 71,
290 T Linard (Fra) 79 69 69 73, A Hortal  (Esp) 72 72 68 78, W Harrold (Eng) 70 78 68 74,
291 S Brown (Eng) 74 71 73 73, A Velasco (Esp) 71 78 70 72, P Edberg (Swe) 81 70 70 70,
292 M Orrin (Eng) 69 74 74 75,
293 J Roos (RSA) 73 69 80 71, A McArthur  (Sco) 73 77 71 72,
294 A Bernadet  (Fra) 74 73 71 76, S Henry  (Sco) 76 72 73 73, J Edfors (Swe) 76 70 76 72,
295 M Lampert (Ger) 76 75 71 73, D Coupland (Eng) 71 76 74 74,
296 C Shinkwin (Eng) 77 73 72 74,
298 B Åkesson (Swe) 74 70 77 77,
301 N Quintarelli (Ita) 74 75 73 79,
307 M Delpodio  (Ita) 72 78 77 80,
309 J Palmer (Eng) 76 76 79 78,