May 22, 2017: Aaron Rai secured his second European Challenge Tour victory of the season by beating Ireland’s Gavin Moynihan 2&1 in the final match to triumph at the Andalucía Costa del Sol Match Play 9.
The Englishman, who won the season-opening Barclays Kenya Open, showed skill and grit throughout the final day at La Cala Resort, coming through three nine-hole match play fixtures to claim his second title in four starts on the 2017 Road to Oman.
The 22 year old started the second day of match play with a 2&1 victory over France’s Robin Sciot-Siegrist, before facing his fellow countryman Tom Murray in a finely-balanced semi-final – which Rai eventually claimed 2up.
Facing Rai in the final was Ireland’s Gavin Moynihan. The 22 year old edged out Marcus Kinhult 1up in his quarter-final, then went on to knock out top seed Charlie Ford 3&2 in the semi-final.
Both players were on fine form in the final, with Rai striking first by taking the first two holes with back-to-back birdies.
Moynihan responded with gains of his own on the third and fourth holes, but after Rai holed a 25-foot putt to halve the fifth the momentum changed – Rai rallied to birdie the sixth and seventh to reach 2up with two to play.
With Moynihan narrowly missing a birdie putt on the eighth, Rai was left with a five-foot putt for his second victory in two months.
After a phenomenal start to his second season on Europe’s top developmental tour, Rai is well-placed to claim the three wins needed to guarantee automatic promotion to the European Tour – something he is well aware of.
“It is an incredible start and obviously puts you in a very good position for the rest of the season,” he said.
“I think to win full stop is also incredible, no matter when it is in the year. It is not too different from my first victory as a win is still a win and it doesn’t happen very often in a golfer’s career.
“I think the format this week was very good. It was short enough to make it interesting to watch, but long enough to give yourself a chance of recovering if you don’t get off to the best of starts – so it’s a very good mix.
“I obviously got off to a very good start in the final, but that was only two holes in and you have to stay focused as seven holes is still a long way to go in this format.
“Gavin came back at me, and even when I went 1up at the sixth I still felt as though there was a long way to go.
“It was a really close match, we birdied six of the eight holes between us, so I knew I couldn’t make any slip ups over the next few holes.
“When I saw Gavin’s putt just miss on the eighth I felt pretty confident. I knew it was for the match, but I just managed to keep my cool.”
Elsewhere in Andalucía Ford beat Murray 2&1 to take third place, Sciot-Siegrist beat Kinhult 3&2 to claim fifth place, while Matthew Baldwin swept aside Oliver Lindell 3&2 to finish in seventh place.
Rai’s victory on the Spanish coast takes him to top spot in the Road to Oman Rankings, with America’s Julian Suri sitting in second place.