Thomas Levet described himself as living out a dream on Sunday when he finally captured the Alstom French Open 25 years after first playing in the tournament.
Tipped as a possible captain when the Ryder Cup is staged at Le Golf National in 2018, the 42-year-old local hero triumphed on the Albatross Course by a shot over England's Mark Foster and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen. Levet came into the event ranked 352nd in the world, but from three behind with a round to go, a closing 1-under-par 70 gave him a nail-biting victory.
2011 ALSTOM FRENCH OPEN
The Alstom French Open is played at Le Golf National, which recently was selected to host the 2018 Ryder Cup.
"It was just crazy -- the way it went was just like a dream," he said after Olesen missed a four-foot par putt on the last and then longtime leader Foster left a 20-foot birdie attempt short.
"The people were going 'Allez, allez, allez' and some of them go 'Captain, captain'. The atmosphere was great -- I felt like one of the Tour de France riders climbing a mountain,” he explained. "I had everyone behind me basically the same as a Ryder Cup and it was the same adrenaline rush.
"I was reaching distances I've never reached before, but with experience I knew it was going to happen,” said Levet of his sixth career victory. "It's the first time my kids have seen me win. I'm not done yet!"
With Levet, the runner-up to Ernie Els in the 2002 British Open after a five-hole playoff at Muirfield, having qualified for Royal St. George’s last month, the one British Open place in the event up for grabs this weekend went to Olesen rather than Foster because of his higher world ranking.
That piled on the disappointment for Foster, who could not hang onto the 54-hole lead for the second week running and has now gone 8 ½ yers and 234 European Tour events since his lone victory.
Levet's 7 under total won the trophy and after 11 successive pars at the start of his round Foster was still 9 under. But then came a double-bogey 6 at the 12th, where he came up short of the green and chipped off the side of it. He then three-putted the next and parred in for a 74 that did not contain a single birdie.
Overnight co-leader James Morrison fared even worse, going in the lake on the first two holes and eventually tied for seventh after a 78.
Scotland's Richie Ramsay resumed only one behind and that is where he still stood until he found water on the 15th and ran up a triple-bogey 7. That allowed 2009 winner Martin Kaymer through into fourth place, good enough for him to reclaim the world No. 3 spot off U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.
Levet had a real rollercoaster ride at the start. He birdied the first, three-putted the second, took two penalty drops out of hazards for a bogey 6 on the next and then made a curling 60-foot birdie putt at the fourth.
He rated his 12-foot par putt at the 17th the crucial one, though. Olesen was about to birdie, but instead of going ahead he was only level and the 21-year-old rookie then missed the final green. By bogeying, he had to settle for his third runners-up finish of the season, whereas Levet joined Jean-Francois Remesy -- champion in 2004 and 2005 -- as the only French winners since 1969.
"It was close, really close,” said Oleson, whose British Open appearance will be his first major. “I thought I hit a good putt on the last, but hopefully next time I can win."
He matched Levet's 70, but though it was not good enough there was only one better score all day in windy conditions that blew England's Kenneth Ferrie -- scorer of a 60 four months ago -- to an 88.