ENGLISH prankster David Lynn laughed all the way to the long-awaited second victory of his career at the Portugal Masters as Ireland's Simon Thornton was introduced to a vast new economy of scale on the elite professional tours.
Famous for glueing all the opposing team's practice balls together at the recent Seve Trophy and marking Rory McIlroy's birthday last May by heaving a sack of potatoes into the Irishman's locker, Lynn left everyone else gasping with the audacity of his final-round 63 on the windswept Victoria Course.
Lynn, 40 next Saturday, set a target nobody else could match on 18-under and spent the final 90 minutes of this tournament watching the 16 players who started the final round behind him engage in a difficult game of catch-up on ever-hardening greens.
Thornton (36) who started this year wondering if, as a father of two toddlers, he could any longer afford to pursue his fortune on the Challenge Tour, finished his season with a handsome €41,200 cheque in a tie for eighth place on 14-under after playing a prominent part in the pursuit of Lynn.
As a maiden Tour winner at the dual-ranking event at St Omer in June, Thornton suddenly made his card for next season safe.
Granted precious breathing space, the Co Down resident began performing with real flair and flourish.
Learning well from the experience of taking a share of the lead into the weekend at last month's Italian Open, where he ultimately tied 16th, Thornton contended for victory all the way up to the final three holes yesterday, before misfortune intervened to leave him with a level-par 71.
But for a couple of dropped shots at 16 and 17, Yorkshire-born Thornton, who has taken out Irish citizenship since moving to Newcastle 15 years ago and subsequently marrying local girl Ciara, would have finished in a four-way tie for third, which would have been worth €95,000.
So a couple of minor errors effectively cost him a whopping €53,800. After raising a throaty roar from the many Irish fans in the large galleries by holing a monster birdie putt at 15, Thornton paid an hefty price for misreading the ocean breeze at the par-three 16th.
Instead of taking the five-iron he believed would bound through the rock-hard green, he took a six-iron and was stunned when it ballooned in the gusting wind and fell short in the front fringe. He took three to get down and again at 17, where his 20-foot putt for birdie ran a stunning 10 feet past the hole on an unpredictably quick green which foxed several others.
"Unbelievable," was the word Thornton used to describe the pace at which that putt ran past the hole ... but his frustration was short-lived. "It was a bit disappointing there the last three holes but I played some good shots and was still in there contending. So I suppose I have to be happy overall."
Certainly a lot happier than Peter Lawrie, who missed his eighth cut in nine events in Portugal and heads for the final event of his season, this week's Perth International, needing at least a top-30 finish to spare himself a dreaded visit to Q-School.
Lawrie dropped to three places to 114th in the Order of Merit on €217,107 – that's €11,200 shy of 110th and salvation.
Though David Higgins made the cut at Vilamoura, he was frustrated with his 57th-place finish on five-under following a closing 71, especially after making bogey at 18 for the second day in succession. A €5,700 cheque means the Waterville native, one behind Lawrie in 115th and currently €17,368 beyond the pale, must finish in the top 20 in Perth.
Clearly drained by his exhausting Ryder Cup schedule, Paul McGinley's batteries ran flat as a one-under 70, featuring a glorious pitch-in eagle at 15, left him tied 51st on six-under (worth €7,600).
Lynn, who won his only other Tour title at the 20013 KLM Open, showed his class as a ball-striker when finishing second to McIlroy in last year's PGA at Kiawah Island.
Interestingly, Holywood star McIlroy now lies 60th in the Race to Dubai but should easily clinch his place in the field for the DP World Tour Championship at the upcoming BMW Masters and HBC Champions in Shanghai.
Padraig Harrington, who skipped Portugal to get to Bermuda in time for today's opening of the defence of his title at the 36-hole PGA Grand Slam Championship, today drops out of the top 100 in the World Golf Rankings for the first time since 1999.