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Happell: Quiros Did What Many Former Stars Couldn't

Alvaro Quiros' win at the European Tour's Rocco Forte Open ended years of on-course misery for the Spaniard.
It rated barely a mention in the Australian media on Monday but Alvaro Quiros’ win in the Rocco Forte Open in Sicily over the weekend was an astonishing golf story worthy of greater acclaim.

Quiros opened up a seven-shot lead early in Sunday’s final round but then, haunted by the demons and doubts that have plagued his career over the past six years, stumbled and bumbled his way to a 73.

In the end, the Spaniard had to hole a four-metre par putt at the last hole – which, courageously, he did – to take the tournament into extra holes against South Africa’s Zander Lombard. And when Lombard three-putted the second playoff hole to gift Quiros the victory, the Spaniard had achieved an emotional and quite monumental win.

Monumental because he had been able to do what so many other golfers had been incapable of doing, and that’s re-discover the necessary grit and fortitude to score a tournament victory after effectively losing their game.

Quiros is no-one’s idea of a household name but not so long ago was ranked No.21 in the world after taking out the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 2011, the sixth of his European Tour triumphs.

The lithe, muscular Spaniard hit the ball miles and, with six pro victories to his name by the age of 28, seemed to have the right package of brawn and brain to become one of Europe’s next great players. Stardom beckoned.

But then, as has happened to so many of his professional brethren including David Duval, Ian Baker-Finch, Mike Weir, Anthony Kim, Chris DiMarco and, most famously of all, Tiger Woods, Quiros lost his swing, his touch and eventually his game. 

In 2015, he managed only four top-20 finishes and finished 128th on the European money list. Only that victory in Dubai and its five-year exemption kept him on tour. Last year, he fared even worse, missing 15 cuts and managing only one top-20 finish, meaning he had to return to qualifying school where he failed to earn back his card.

Little wonder then that he began his week in Sicily ranked 703rd in the world.

Golf at the elite level involves a brutal psychological examination each week. Feeling a bit fragile or beset by self-doubt and, in an environment as competitive as tour golf, you simply don’t stand a chance. Only the mentally robust survive.

Which is what made Quiros’ performance so remarkable. 

His golf over the final 12 holes was a hacker’s hotch-potch of missed fairways and a string of bogeys. But somehow he held it together – and then made that fateful par putt on the 72nd hole, a shot that now must sit alongside his greatest.

Contrast the Spaniard’s performance with that of another lost soul, Canada’s Mike Weir, who also teed up in Sicily this week.

The lefty was the 2003 Masters champion, a Presidents Cup mainstay in 2000 and once ranked the fifth best player in the world. 

Since those glory days, Weir won once on the PGA Tour in 2004 then again in 2007 but has not tasted success since. It’s been a decade of struggle – he finished 72nd behind Quiros in the Rocco Forte event yesterday – and he’s now officially listed as the 1917th best player in the world.

Weir is one of many top-liners who have suffered this inexplicable fall from grace. 

Kim has barely been heard from since withdrawing from the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, lost to a series of injuries and, apparently, a dissolute party lifestyle.

Duval racked up 11 tour wins between 1997 and 1999, including a come-from-behind victory at the 1999 Bob Hope Classic where he eagled the last hole to shoot 59, and then he climbed the mountaintop in 2001, scoring his lone major win at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham. 

But he, too, fell off the face of the earth – plummeting from No.1 in the world golf rankings to his current mark of 1814. 

On the women’s side, Yani Tseng dominated the LPGA Tour from 2008 to 2012, becoming (at 22) the youngest player – man or woman – to win five majors. She had also racked up 15 tour victories in that time.

Unsurprisingly, she was ranked No.1 for 109 consecutive weeks from 2011 to 2013. Now, the Taiwanese is languishing in 152nd place. If she hasn’t exactly lost her game, she’s certainly misplaced it somewhere.

She, like Duval, Weir, Baker-Finch, Woods and so many others, woke up one day to find the magic missing. Suddenly, the game which came so easily to them was no longer their friend but a stranger speaking a different dialect.

But Quiros, with his performance over the past four days, has managed to succeed where most have failed. He has stared down fate and managed to pull out of what must have seemed like a terminal death spiral.   

The Spaniard’s victory earns him a place in the line-up for next week's PGA Championship at Wentworth and, far more importantly, full playing rights on the European Tour. A week ago, that must have seemed like a fanciful dream.

GW PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: JASON DAY

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