When finishing second (with a bogey) counts as a win
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When finishing second (with a bogey) counts as a win

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt was quoted as saying, "Second place is just the first place lose,r" and it's a sentiment sportsmen and women are fond of repeating.

It's a pretty sluggish dose of wisdom at the best of times and is not remotely true of the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, which concludes every European Challenge Tour season.

True, the macho observer might fawn over the achievements of Tapio Pulkkanen (No. 1 in the season's rankings) or Clement Sordet (the tournament winner), and they certainly don't deserve to be overlooked. But the real stories lie lower down the leaderboard on a day when 15 men are confirmed top of the rankings and as such win European Tour cards for the 2018 season.

With multiple winners come multiple losers, an equation that throws up stories and, indeed, other things too.

Australia's Nick Cullen entered the final round of this year's tournament with promotion in his sights, yet ended the day tweeting: "Threw up mom's spaghetti all over the back 9 greens today #NBOGrandFinal #missedchance". For Frenchman Robin Sciot-Siegrist and Germany's Sebastian Heisele there was the frustration of finishing outside the top 15 for the week - and consequently for the season also.

The opening they left was forced open by the last two entries into the Class of 2017 at Al Mouj Golf.

Spain's Scott Fernandez made light of a viral infection which left him pale and sweaty throughout the week to post 12-under-par 276, finish third for the week, securing 14th in the rankings and doing so courtesy of the "best bogey of my career."

"I hit a really bad approach shot into 17," the 25-year-old reported. "Missed it left, found high grass and could only hack it out."

What now faced him was difficult under normal circumstances, but excruciating given the prize which was metaphorically waving at him from behind the 18th green.

"I had the same shot, only this time just from rough. It was down wind, down grain, down hill and I hit it to 8-feet. The putts the same. Down wind, down grain, down hill and left to right. I think that was the shortest backswing I've ever practised for a putt, but it went in. That bogey was better than any birdie."

He tapped in for par at the final hole to confirm graduation and then observed a sudden change in the atmosphere around the Omani course.

"After two years on tour you bond with players, caddies and tour staff," he said. "We're like a family, but as the season nears a conclusion you can really feel the tension, and now it's like people have returned to their old selves."

For Neil, the 21-year-old winner of the 2014 Amateur Championship, there was no immediate release of the strain. Instead, having posted 8-under 280 for tied ninth he prowled between scoring and the media center like a caged lion, anguished, barely muted roars greeting the recollection of his own bogey at 17.

"That was worse than Q School last year," he said. "Horrible. Just horrible. Coming into this week ranked 16th was tough. It's been hard. I hope it's enough. Off to find a dark room."

In actual fact, he later admitted he instead returned to scoring and peered intensely at the projected rankings on a laptop. Outside his father's nervous energy prompted him to replay the round shot by shot.

When the card was confirmed Neil Jr said there had been tears from his proud dad and two close family friends.

"It's the not knowing," he added, still apparently a little dazed. "That's what is so horrible."

Earnhardt is welcome to his opinion. At Grand Final, however, not all winners finish first.

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Matt Cooper