Bjorn wins Johnnie Walker crown on fifth hole of five-man playoff

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Thomas Bjorn earned his second trophy of 2011 in a five-man sudden-death shootout that lasted more than 90 minutes.
By
Associated Press and PA Sport

Series: European Tour

Thomas Bjorn won a five-way sudden-death playoff at the fifth extra hole Sunday to capture the European Tour’s Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.

The 40-year-old Dane made birdie at the par-5 No. 18 to beat South Africa's George Coetzee, after Austria's Bernd Wiesberger, Spain's Pablo Larrazabal and England's Mark Foster had been eliminated earlier in a five-man shootout that lasted more than 90 minutes.

All five players had finished at 11-under 277, with Foster botching a chance to win outright by bogeying the 72nd hole when a par was all he needed to end an eight-year title drought.

Bjorn's second title of the year -- and 12th of his career -- lifted him just outside the world's top 50 in the rankings.

"As you get rid of one at a time it becomes more difficult, but the way I played the hole the last three times was great," said Bjorn, who also won the Qatar Masters in February.

Bjorn, who started the day three shots behind overnight leaders Foster and Spain's Ignacio Garrido, kept his composure during the playoff and fired birdies on the third, fourth and fifth extra holes after fine approach shots to each.

On the fifth hole of the playoff, the 112th-ranked Coetzee -- who finished with rounds of 66, 67 and 67 after opening with a 5-over 77 -- was always playing catch-up following his drive into the left rough. He sent his third shot within 20 feet but couldn't drain the birdie, leaving Bjorn the simple task of putting out.

"This is my second win of the year and I'm thrilled by that," said Bjorn, whose renaissance this year continued with a fourth-place finish at last month's British Open. "Hopefully, there's more to come."

It's the first time Bjorn, a two-time Ryder Cup winner, has won two tournaments in one year on the European Tour since 1998.

Wiesberger and Larrazabal -- this year's BMW International Open winner in Munich -- both shot 69s but exited the playoff at the first and second extra holes, respectively.

Foster (72) disappeared at the fourth playoff hole, leaving him to rue his failure to wrap up the title in regulation time when he drove into the deep rough at the 72nd hole and landed next to a tree. He then failed to get up and down in two, forcing the first five-way playoff on the European Tour since the 1992 BMW International Open -- won by Paul Azinger.

A final-day meltdown was nothing new to Foster, who led or shared the lead in three previous tournaments this year -- the French Open, the BMW International and the Scottish Open -- without going on to win.

Foster, 37, had led by three with eight holes to play, but was caught after he bogeyed the 12th and Bjorn birdied both the 13th and long 16th. It was back in Foster's hands when Bjorn three-putted the short 17th, missing from four feet for the second time in the round. But driving into the trees down the last meant there was still all to do for the former English Amateur champion.

There was a gap ahead of him, but his second shot found the rough, he could not make the green in three and his pitch rolled back down a slope to 20 feet. His putt to win never had the pace to reach the hole and, given what had just happened, he did well to join the playoff.

Wiesberger dropped out first, running up a 6 after driving into a bush and taking a penalty drop, and Larrazabal went next. He also took 6 after his chip for birdie from over the green hit the hole, but went nearly five feet past.

He and Coetzee had been involved in a six-hole playoff at Sunningdale in June for a place in the British Open, with Coetzee eventually winning that in near-darkness, and Larrazabal then had a five-hole shoot-out with Sergio Garcia before capturing the BMW International Open in Munich later in the month.

Bjorn, who went closest to winning on the first extra hole when he lipped out from the back bunker, looked as if he might triumph at the third when he pitched to within three feet of the flag. However, Coetzee followed to five feet and Foster to two. All three birdied and so they went back to the 18th tee yet again.

After Foster's exit it was finally decided after Bjorn pitched to within three feet for a third successive birdie.

Tied for sixth, but only one stroke back, were Scotland's Stephen Gallacher and Sweden’s Joel Sjoholm, both of whom had failed to birdie the last.