An emotional Oliver Wilson admitted he could be "drunk for a while" following his win in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, after starting the week ranked 792nd in the world.
Wilson, who finished runner-up nine times on the European Tour before losing his card, recorded a closing 70 at St Andrews to finish 17 under par, one shot ahead of world number one Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood and Richie Ramsay.
Fleetwood, who was playing alongside Wilson, missed from 10 feet for birdie on the last to force a play-off, while Ramsay was two clear of the field after his eighth birdie of the day on the 15th, only to bogey the 16th and 17th in a closing 67.
McIlroy double bogeyed the first after misjudging his approach and seeing his ball spin back into the Swilcan Burn, and although he birdied the next four holes and made two more on the 10th and 12th, his chances ended when he putted into the Road Hole bunker on the 17th.
But the likeable Wilson’s win was so popular amongst his fellow professionals that McIlroy summed up the mood by writing on his Twitter account: “Don’t think I could’ve chosen a better person to finish 2nd to this week! Congrats Oliver_Wilson so well deserved!”
Wilson is ranked a lowly 102nd on the Challenge Tour but claimed the first prize of €625,787 and a two-year exemption on the European Tour, moving from 252nd to 39th on the Race to Dubai.
“I don’t have words for it,” admitted Wilson. “It’s been 10, 11 years coming, nine runners-up and I hadn’t done a whole lot (wrong) to lose those but nothing has really gone my way.
“I know so many people had written me off and that hurt, but I just kept believing and a lot of people around me helped. I can’t thank them all enough but they know who they are. It’s pretty special.
“I slept awful last night, I thought about a lot of things that this could do for me but to be honest I probably didn’t genuinely believe, then I got on 17 when I holed that putt and started thinking what were the possibilities.
“The tournaments that I am now going to be able to get in . . . I don’t have to go back to qualifying school and I can’t tell you how pleased I am about that. I don’t know all the implications yet but it will be fun to work out.
“I could be drunk for a while. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve got a lot of champagne on hold from over the years. It will be a good party.”
Wilson took a three-shot lead into the final round but saw that wiped out by the time he three-putted the fourth and fifth, the first for a bogey and the second for a par on the par five.
Birdies on the 10th and 11th got the 2008 Ryder Cup player back into a tie for the lead and after Ramsay faltered down the stretch, Wilson took advantage with a brilliant approach to within a few feet of the flag on the 16th.
"The shot I hit into 16 was probably the best shot I've hit in my life," said the 34-year-old, who credited the coaching of fellow European Tour professional Robert Rock for his success.
Wilson still needed to get up and down from 90 yards short of the 17th to save par and did a far better job than McIlroy managed from much closer to the green, the four-time Major winner suffering the embarrassment of putting into the dreaded Road Hole bunker.
“I didn’t really leave myself much of a chance there,” McIlroy admitted. “If you’re going to miss it, you need to miss it right there and I didn’t. It was tough.
“Where I feel like I cost myself the tournament today was probably in the space of about 20 yards at the front of the green at the first and over at the Road Hole bunker. Not too far away from each other. They are the two things, the only mistakes that I made all day.”
McIlroy was reluctant to blame fatigue for his mistakes, but admitted: “I’m not 100 per cent. My excitement level didn’t get above about three at any point during the round. I’m ready for a break.
“(But) I love this golf course. I feel like I play well here every time I tee it up so I am looking forward to coming back here in July and defending the Open Championship.”
Fleetwood, who had recorded three top-five finishes in his previous five events, said: “Again I was just that little bit short, which is always disappointing, but I think you have to put in perspective that you just came in second in a huge event.
“From where I was starting Saturday morning, it’s an amazing finish (shooting 62 on Saturday at St Andrews) and I think I holed my fair share of putts on the last two days. That one on the last wasn’t a very good putt and that’s just what happens. But fair play to Ollie, he was fantastic.”
Ramsay, who three-putted the 17th from just short of the green, added: “I played 17 really well. I hit a great putt and it just horseshoed out on the left and that’s the difference between winning and coming second sometimes. It’s a matter of inches and it was an inch too far left.
“I said to one of the guys, if you’re going to lose to someone, you’d like to lose to Ollie. He’s gone through a tough time the last two or three years and to pull that off at St Andrews, under intense pressure knowing what it means to him to put him back on the European Tour, it’s life changing. I just hope one day it will be me in that position.”
Dubliner Peter Lawrie is another golfer suffering from a lean time of late but he picked up close to €39,000 in prizemoney for winning the pro-am event with partner Kieran McManus, a son of former winner JP McManus.
McIlroy and his father Gerry, celebrating his 55th birthday, finished in a tie for fifth, while former Ireland rugby captain Brian O'Driscoll finished off an excellent debut in the competition with a share of 12th spot with England's Oliver Fisher.