Thornton dedicates first Tour victory to late father
An emotional Simon Thornton dedicated his maiden European Tour victory to his late father after the Irishman showed nerves of steel to beat Tjaart van der Walt of South Africa in a play-off and claim the Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open title on Father's Day.
The Bradford-born Irishman holed several tricky putts on the back nine in an enthralling battle of wits with his South African playing partner in the final group at Aa Saint Omer Golf Club.
The most important putt of all, however, came at the 18th during regular play when, after Van der Walt sealed a par, Thornton was left with a 10-foot putt to level matters.
Under the most intense of pressure, the 36-year-old rolled it into the cup and clenched his fist in celebration as he signed for a one-under-par 70 to finish alongside Van der Walt on four-under.
He kept his cool once again in the play-off, finding the fringe of the green while Van der Walt's approach found a greenside bunker and after the South African's sand shot fell 12 feet short, Thornton rolled a perfectly-weighted putt from 30 feet which slid just left of the hole but ensured a par.
When Van der Walt's par putt came up short, Thornton tapped in to the rapturous applause of the watching crowds, before dedicating the victory to his father, who passed away three years ago.
"It's so big for me," said a tearful Thornton. "On Father's Day too, he passed away three years ago and it still hurts, but they are happy tears today. This is dedicated to him.
"On the last putt – I had been saying to myself all day, if I'm going to make it easy for myself I 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.
"Hopefully this is a stepping stone for me," said Thornton, who carded the first hole-in-one of his professional career on the third day in France. I'll go home this week now and celebrate, take a week off, and then play in the Irish Open."