It may have been five years in the making, but Ryder Cup star Rafa Cabrera Bello finally ended his long wait for a third European Tour title with a memorable play-off victory over Callum Shinkwin at last season’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
The 34-year-old fired a stunning, bogey-free fourth round 64 at Dundonald Links to post a 13 under par total which was matched by Shinkwin, who was in search of his first European Tour title. Cabrera Bello then unleashed two of his best shots of the week to the heart of the green on the par-five 18th to set up a two-putt birdie for victory and join the illustrious ranks of Rolex Series winners.
‘Best Golf of My Life’
“I have been fighting for this win for many years and I’m very happy and proud that it came at the Scottish Open and in a Rolex Series event,” he said, shortly after receiving the silver Quaich trophy – his first piece of silverware since the 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic. “It had certainly been a long wait, but it was worth it for me to experience a win like that,” said the likeable Spaniard.
“I played some of the best golf of my life in the final round and handled myself really well during the entire day, and the play-off went superbly well with two great shots and, luckily, birdie was enough to win.” Cabrera Bello followed his compatriots Jon Rahm (Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation and DP World Tour Championship, Dubai) and Sergio Garcia (the Masters) as headline-grabbing winners on last year’s European Tour and was delighted to notch another win for his country at the highest level.
“It was great to see the Spanish players doing so well last season, and I really wanted to be a part of that success. I was really happy that I could join them in the winner’s circle.”
Cabrera Bello, who made his Ryder Cup debut two years ago, knows a good performance this week could go a long way towards securing his spot in Thomas Bjørn’s side in Paris but he also acknowledges that competition is fierce.
As a rookie, the man from Gran Canaria was one of Europe’s brightest performers at Hazeltine, remaining unbeaten and delivering 2.5 points from his three matches. He fought well in the United States and he is doing everything he can this year to get back on the team.
“Hazeltine was one of the best weeks of my life,” he reflected. “Obviously, we were disappointed that we didn’t win, but individually, I was pleased with the way I performed and how I contributed to the team. As a rookie I can say that the sheer experience mattered more than winning or losing.” Cabrera Bello finished in a share of eighth place at the BMW PGA Championship in May to move to 11th place in The Ryder Cup ranking and this is the busy time of year when players make their charge to get into the European team for September.
Chance of Qualifying
“Ryder Cup points are now more valuable with each point multiplied by 1.5 to make sure the players who are in form closer to the tournament have more chance of qualifying,” he said. “Everyone wants to make The Ryder Cup team and I feel lucky that I am in a position to play in all the big events on both the European Tour and in the USA to try and improve my ranking. The downside to that is that I’m living out of a suitcase most of the time! It’s been that way since spring and will be the same for most of the summer in Europe. It can be tiring but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not too many players are able to pick a schedule made up of the biggest events on both Tours so it’s something I feel very fortunate to be able to do.”
‘I Feel I’m in Good Form’
Cabrera Bello, who hasn’t been outside the top 30 on the Official World Golf Ranking since May last year, is one of the most consistent players in the game. He showed last year at the Scottish Open that he can go low when it really matters. “I feel like I’m in good form at the moment, and my tied eighth finish at Wentworth is my highest ever result in the BMW, so I’m looking forward to a good run of Rolex Series events,” he said. “Obviously, the Scottish Open is the one I’m really aiming for. Gullane is in a beautiful part of Scotland and I’m raring to go. Winning the tournament last year was a special occasion for me, and it was also the first time I had won in a play-off. Throughout the last round I was in contention but had to chase the entire day, so it was a good feeling to win like that.
‘Helped My Confidence’
“I love links golf. I always enjoy playing the Scottish Open. In the past few years it has been in a great position, played on a links course, just before The Open and it has prepared us all in the best possible way. “The win last year really helped my confidence going into The Open at Royal Birkdale. All of the events I managed to play on the Rolex Series last year had very strong fields. They were played on excellent, competitive courses and had very good winners – of course, I say that modestly. I can’t wait to play more Rolex Series events, and particularly in successfully defending my title here at Gullane.”
Cabrera Bello tees off at 13:30 local time with the new Titleist TS driver in the bag.