THE TURKISH AIRLINES OPEN WAS THE SHOWPIECE IN ANOTHER REMARKABLE YEAR IN GOLF FOR TURKISH AIRLINES.
Once again, seventy-five of the best players on the planet, including two-time champion Justin Rose and this year’s Open Championship winner Shane Lowry, assembled in Belek with the champion receiving $2 million in prize money -at the time a record for a winner on the European Tour.
As always, there were many memorable moments surrounding the tournament but the golf itself delivered a remarkable climax. After a three-year absence, the tournament returned to the Montgomerie Maxx Royal and served up a classic that grabbed attention and headlines around the world on the way to Tyrrell Hatton coming out on top.
For only the third time in European Tour history and the first time in 16 years, there were six players tied at the top of the leaderboard that needed to be separated by a playoff. And, at the end of a day of solid sunshine, they did it under the floodlights, demonstrating the fact that Antalya truly is a paradise for golfers.
Being played in the same week as the Grand Finals of the Turkish Airlines World Golf Cup, the Turkish Airlines Open is the showpiece in another remarkable year in golf for Turkish Airlines, who even allows passengers to take clubs for free. The Turkish Airlines Open has become a central point of the golfing season but never before in its seven-year history has it served up as much drama as the 2019 edition.
Austrian sensation Matthias Schwab had led from the first day but his Sunday round of 70 allowed the pack to catch him, causing a dramatic six-man shoot-out to decide who claimed the title.
Starting in two groups of three, South African Erik van Rooyen, and Frenchmen Victor Perez and Benjamin Hebert failed to birdie the iconic 18th and dropped out after one hole.
As the darkness descended, American Kurt Kitayama missed the chance to win the tournament with a birdie putt and as they were buggied back down 18 once again, the floodlights were switched on.
It was the first time that a European Tour playoff had been played under lights and it only added to the tension, with Schwab and Hatton both making birdies and Kitayama dropping out after three holes. Fourth time around and Schwab, who had finished fourth at the WGC-HSBC Champions the week before, missed a short par putt that would have extended the playoff to a fifth hole, handing Hatton the win.
“It was a mental finish with a six-man playoff under the lights for the first time in history and it was very special to get the win which will be a day I will never forget,” Hatton said.
Indeed, it was a week that will live long in the memory for many reasons. After two consecutive wins in the previous two tournaments, Olympic gold medalist Rose returned to Antalya full of confidence as he aimed to become just the fourth player in European Tour history to win three consecutive events. Feeling the backing of the Turkish golf fans, he said, “I’ve had a lot of support from people here in Turkey. Having played well here, I feel like a lot of people here have really supported me really, really nicely. It was fun to win again last year. I’ve had many wonderful experiences here in Turkey, dating back to 2012, when (Turkish Golf Federation President) Ahmet (Ağaoğlu) and everybody here involved brought eight of the best players in the world to play sort of a match-play-style tournament (the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final). It’s been fantastic to see the tournament go from strength to strength.”
Irishman Lowry, one of this year’s heroes following his Open triumph at Royal Portrush in July, was also full of anticipation for the week ahead. “It’s nice to be here,” he said. “It’s definitely one of those really nice weeks, lovely weather, lovely golf course, great hotel. I know a few guys and I have our families here, so it’s a chilled week, but there’s a lot of business to take care of as well. I’m looking forward to getting out there.”
On the eve of the tournament there was a spectacular show at the Maxx Royal, with Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington beating off 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett and Justin Walters to win the Unimaginable Shot challenge, firing shots at three targets floating in the Maxx Royal pools.
When the real stuff started, Harrington struggled, with a 10 on the par-five fourth, setting the tone for his day. However, one of his playing partners, Schwab, maintained his impressive recent form with an opening round of 65 taking him to the top of the leaderboard alongside Englishman Tom Lewis. Rose was handily tucked in a share of sixth place after a 67 and he held that position with a 68 on Friday, while Schwab hit the front
on his own with a five-under-par 67 taking him a shot clear of Thomas Detry, Willett, Alex Noren, and Ross Fisher.
Searching for a first European Tour win, Schwab strengthened his position further with a 66 on Saturday to reach -18 and take a three-shot lead over Fisher, Hatton, Hebert, Scottish golfer Robert Macintyre, and American 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed. Even then he knew that there could be no letup if he was to hold on to his advantage.
Schwab stated, “The game plan is going to be the same as it’s been the last three days. The course is gettable and there are a lot of birdies out there, so I’ll just stay aggressive because pars won’t be enough.”
Sunday began with a poignant minute’s silence to mark the 81st anniversary of the passing away of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, with players, caddies, officials, and volunteers standing in silence to pay their respects.
Once the action started, the scoring was red hot and despite picking up two more strokes in his first four holes, Schwab began to feel the pressure of those chasing. Kitayama birdied his last three holes for a 64 to reach -20, an eagle on the last got Van Rooyen to the same mark, and Perez picked up four birdies in his last five holes to join them. Playing with Schwab, Hatton and Hebert birdied the final hole to force the six- man playoff with Hatton coming out on top under the lights, some seven hours after he teed off his final round. It was a remarkable finish and will take some beating when the Turkish Airlines Open returns for an eighth time in November next year.