Thornton tops van der Walt in playoff in France
Lumbres, France (Sports Network) - Simon Thornton parred the first playoff hole on Sunday to top Tjaart van der Walt and win the Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open.
Thornton and van der Walt, who each held a share of the lead at the end of the third round with Baptiste Chapellan, each carded a 1-under 70 during their final round to finish 72 holes at Aa Saint Omer Golf Club at 5-under-par 279.
"I didn't play particularly well today in perfect conditions, but I got up and down when I had to and holed good putts," said Thornton. "I've been working hard on my short game for a couple of years now so I'm delighted."
Chapellan struggled to a 6-over 77 on Sunday to fall into a tie for 15th place at 2-over 286.
Seve Benson (70) finished in third at 4-under, while Robert Dinwiddie (70) captured fourth at minus-2.
Pelle Edberg (71) and Chris Lloyd (72) shared fifth at 1-under 283.
Thornton and van der Walt returned to the par-4 18th for the playoff after neither could move ahead by trading pars over their final six holes.
They both found the fairway with their tee shots, but Thornton was able to stick his approach on the fringe of the green about 30 feet from the hole, while van der Walt's second shot found a greenside bunker.
Van der Walt then failed to get up and down for par, and Thornton was able to tap in for his first career win on the European Tour following his birdie effort that settled just to the left of the hole.
"It's really disappointing to get so close and not finish it off," van der Walt said of the loss.
Earlier in the day, Thornton and van der Walt quickly pulled ahead of Chapellan with birdies at the first.
Thornton then birdied the third to grab the outright lead at 6-under, but tripped to a bogey at the fourth to fall back into a tie with van der Walt.
After van der Walt fell out of a share of the lead with a bogey at the fifth, there was a 2-stroke swing at the seventh, as van der Walt poured in a birdie to move to 5-under while Thornton dropped a shot to fall to minus-4 and into a share of second with Benson.
But van der Walt could not hang on to the lead, as he double bogeyed the eighth to drop to 3-under.
Thornton regained the outright lead with a birdie at the eighth before giving that shot right back with a 3-putt bogey at the ninth.
However, Thornton bounced right back with a birdie at the ninth and was joined at 5-under by van der Walt following his birdie at the 12th.
Benson, meanwhile, fell off the pace with a bogey at the 11th, but made it a three-way tie atop the leaderboard with back-to-back gains at the 13th and 14th.
He then bogeyed the 16th to fall behind the co-leaders, who posted matching pars over their final six holes to force the playoff. Thornton sank a 10- foot putt at the last to ensure the extra hole.
"On the last putt -- I had been saying to myself all day, if I'm going to make it easy for myself you need to try on every putt and make sure it goes where you want to hit it -- so I just picked a line and willed it in and it dropped," Thornton said about the putt at the 18th.
NOTES: Thornton, who is a regular on the co-sanctioning Challenge tour, received a 1-year exemption to the European Tour with the win ... Thornton's previous best finish was a tie for ninth at the 2010 BMW International Open ... Thornton is the seventh first-time winner this year ... The tournament was the only dual-ranking tournament of the 2013 season on the European Tour ... Martin Wiegele, who won this event in 2010, was the last Challenge Tour member to win on the European Tour.
06/16 13:33:04 ET