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Linhart Captures Madeira Title


Pedro Linhart grittily retained the lead he had held since the second round of the weather-torn Madeira Island Open to take the title Sunday with a final round of 71 for a total of 12-under-par 276.

Linhart, one of the quiet men of the European PGA Tour, found reserves of resilience that not even he could have expected. He withstood a determined charge by European Ryder Cup captain Mark James, who wiped out four of the five strokes by which he trailed Linhart at the start of the final round.

James, the 45-year-old veteran of seven Ryder Cup matches, is in his 24th season on the European circuit, in which time he has annexed 18 ranking titles. Not even all that experience was enough to overcome the inner strength that Linhart found on this, his day of days.

"It was a struggle, but I'm glad I came through in the end," Linhart said. "I was watching the leaderboard closely towards the finish, and I figured I needed one more birdie to win. "

"I had a decent chance at the 16th, then at the 17th, I hit a little 7-iron in to 15 feet and holed it. That was a pressure shot, but so was my two-putt par at the 18th. Am I happy? Of course I am."

Linhart was born Peter Linhart in the Canary Islands to a father from Brooklyn and a mother who hailed "from all over the place." He was an assistant professional at a club in New Jersey from 1989 to 1993, by which time he had cast off his American passport, become a Spanish citizen and completed the job by adopting the Spanish version of his Christian name.

He came back to Europe to try his luck as a tournament professional, and has had his chances to win on at least a couple of occasions before, notably in the French Open last year. Each time he has flirted with victory, then backed off at the vital moment.

At 36, he must have begun to wonder if he had the game and the mental strength to win. His performance on the mountaintop course at Santo da Serra proves he has.

He had a switchback kind of a front nine -- three birdies, three bogeys -- but then settled in and played sound, defensive golf on the inward half.

At times in the early stages of his round it looked like another one of those Linhart performances. He birdied the first, then handed the shot back on the second. He picked up a shot on the fourth and threw it away on the seventh, then bogeyed the eighth as well.

The hole that settled him was the ninth, which he birdied to complete an even-par front side. Now it was time to consolidate.

Eight of the nine holes on the back nine brought him pars. James was closing in. Now we would see if Linhart was made of the right stuff. He was, and then some.

James had already birdied four holes on the front nine to turn in 32. He then slotted in another at the 11th. His only slip of the dy came on the 13th, where he three-putted from 30 feet. However, he birdied the 17th with a 25-foot chip-in and loped off on 11 under.

Linhart was on the 17th tee when James holed his last putt. The slightly-built Spaniard had to birdie one of the last two to win and did so immediately with that career 7-iron. A par on the last would do it for him and a par is what he got, with two putts from 25 feet.

Although eventually beaten, James had the satisfaction of showing the way home to several young players whom he might be leading in Brookline, Mass., in September. He finished two strokes ahead of David Howell, current leader of the European order of merit. Other aspiring Cup players John Bickerton, Andrew Coltart and Padraig Harrington were among a group of six in joint fourth place.

"It doesn't really surprise me to have done well," James said. "I know it has been said that the Ryder Cup captain's game can be affected, but I think about other things on the course. I honestly don't think being captain will have any influence on my golf, although it might nearer the time."

"I am pleased to have played well, though. My concentration has been good this week -- I just wish I'd putted a little better, that's all."

So James goes on, still competitive, still a bonny battler, still grinding away deep into his forties. "I hope there's life in the old dog yet," he said. "There had better be -- I can't afford to retire!"

Neither can Linhart, not by a long way. His aim now is not the heady heights of the Ryder Cup; his more modest target is a place in the Volvo Masters, the season-ending flagship event of the European tour. He's modest to a fault; anybody who hopes that this victory will bring him out of his shell had better think again.

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