Hilleard’s dramatic charge wins French open title

Josh Hilleard French open

England’s Josh Hilleard captured the French amateur title in brilliant fashion, charging 18 places up the leaderboard in the final round then winning the championship in a play-off.

Hilleard, an England international, was one-over par after 54 holes and eight off the lead, when he shot seven-under 64 in the fourth round at Chantilly.

It included a stunning run of four consecutive birdies and an eagle, which started on the fourth, and it catapulted him into a tie with Pierre Pineau of France, who also charged to the top with a closing 66.

On the first play-off hole, the short 16th, Pineau had a putt to win, but his ball lacked speed and missed on the low side of the hole.

They continued to the par four 17th where Hilleard managed a text book par which gave him the title after the Frenchman found sand with his tee shot and was unable to match him.

“This is a massive thrill, more than you can imagine,” said Hilleard, 20, from Farrington Park, Somerset. “You might hope one day to win from however far behind I was, but you know it’s not going to happen that often. It’s a very big confidence boost.”

He gave a hint of what was to come when he played the first nine holes of the third round in five-under, before dropping shots on the way home. It triggered positive thoughts for the last round and he went out “hoping for something to happen – and it did! The golf all just fell into place, everything I’d practiced came together and worked.”

Hilleard gave himself a brief fright on the 11th, where he had a double bogey, but said: “It brought me back down to earth and got me back concentrating. It was all going too easily and, although it cost me a bit, it certainly woke me up!”

Pineau – with whom Hilleard had played the opening two rounds – was the first to congratulate him on his score.

“He’s a top kid,” said Hilleard, who becomes the first Englishman to win this title, going one better than England team-mate Marco Penge who forced a play-off in last year’s championship, only to lose to Ivan Cantero of Spain.

This is the fourth year in a row that the title and the destination of the Murat Cup has been decided in a play-off.

Last season Hilleard was third on the English Men’s Order of Merit after winning four events, and helping England to beat France, win the Costa Ballena quadrangular tournament and take second place in the Colombian International. His next big date is the Brabazon Trophy – the English men’s open amateur strokeplay – which starts on Thursday at Woodhall Spa, the home of England Golf.

Bradley Moore, another England international, was also in contention in France. As the final round got underway he was six under and a shot off the lead. But three double bogeys in five holes of the inward half cost him dearly and he finished on one-under, in a share of ninth place.

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Caption: Josh Hilleard (image courtesy French Golf Federation)