It was all going so smoothly too. With seven holes to play in the final round of the Volvo China Open, Dylan Frittelli saw his three-stroke overnight lead expand to a seemingly comfortable four strokes over Alexander Levy. At which point not many were betting against the 26-year-old South African strolling to his maiden European Tour victory at Topwin Golf Country Club in Beijing.
That feeling of inevitability changed rapidly though. Frittelli, a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s on the the 2012 NCAA title-winning University of Texas team, pulled his tee shot at the long par-5 12th into water, made a double-bogey 7 and suddenly everything was very different. Suddenly, everything was a struggle, one the former first-team All-American seemed to be winning, however, when he made a succession of vital six- to 10-foot putts on each of the next four greens. He was hanging on, but just barely.
In the end, Frittelli arrived at the final tee two over par for the day and needing a birdie on the 583-yard par 5 to beat Levy by a shot. The drive was OK, but his approach ended up way left of the putting surface and adjacent hospitality unit, next to a tree and a fire extinguisher (no kidding). He never really came close to making what would have been a decisive 4.
It didn’t get much better in the playoff, Levy holing out from five yards off the green for birdie on the 18th to clinch his fourth European Tour win and his second victory in this event. As ever with the extrovert California-born Frenchman—who lives up to every national stereotype with his swashbuckling style of play, excitable on-course demeanor and exaggerated physical demonstrativeness—the champagne-soaked celebrations were immediate and prolonged.
For the record, the playoff protagonists tied at 17-under 271, one shot ahead of Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal. Bernd Wiessberger, winner a week ago at the Shenzhen International, maintained the incredible run of form that has seen him rack up nine top-10 finishes in the last eight months as he tied with BMW PGA champion Chris Wood for fourth place another shot back.
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Significantly, Levy’s first thoughts were not of the Sunday 67 that had successfully closed the seven-shot deficit with which he began the day, or the clinching birdie in the playoff, or even the €448,183 winner’s check. No, his mind went immediately to next year’s Ryder Cup matches at Paris National.
“It’s a goal and a dream for me to play the Ryder Cup in France,” said the current European Open champion, whose swing speed typically varies between incredibly quick and a complete blur. “I will do a lot of work to play the Ryder Cup, and I will do my best to be part of the team. But it is an amazing feeling to be back in the winner’s circle. This means a lot because it was the first tournament I won on the European Tour. I won again on tour last year after a bad injury and to come back with the win was very tough for me. I’m really happy with what I did today.”