Atrocious conditions cause havoc at Senior Open as Alex Cejka pips Padraig Harrington to title

Alex Cejka (R) – Atrocious conditions cause havoc at Senior Open as Alex Cejka pips Padraig Harrington to title

Not sure how effective the umbrella was on the Welsh coast as Alex Cejka’s caddie illustrates – pA/Nick Potts

At a windswept, rain-soaked Royal Porthcawl that presented some of the most arduous conditions seen in elite competition in recent times, it seemed entirely appropriate that a man who fled communist Czechoslovakia in a treacherous escape when just nine years old won the Senior Open on Sunday.

Alex Cejka clearly knows a thing or two about standing up to adversity and after conceding a two-shot lead to Padraig Harrington over the final two holes at the South Wales links, the 52-year-old collected himself to beat the three-time major champion on the second extra hole.

“Wow, what a week. What a day,” Cejka said. “It’s incredible. I still can’t believe that I’m here. Beating Padraig in a play-off, such a great player. I’m super happy.”

Cejka carded a 76 and Harrington returned a 75, with YE Yang and Rob Labritz the only players able to match the par of 71. Not a single player broke par over a weekend which featured gusts topping 40mph and, remarkably, the five-over total required for a place in the shoot-out was the same as the halfway cut.

To put the severity of the task in perspective, Ryder Cup legend Colin Montgomerie fired an 88 — and could not even boast the worst final-round score. In all on Sunday, there were 26 rounds of 80 or more in the 70 players who made the cut, with Patrik Sjolund the biggest casualty with an 18-over 89.

Colin Montgomerie

Colin Montgomerie had a day to forget at Royal Porthcawl as he was one of the big victims of the wind and rain – Getty Images/Richard Martin-Roberts

Bernhard Langer cap goes for a trip as the wind, which was strong at 40mph, made life hell for some of the world's best

Bernhard Langer’s cap goes for a trip as the wind, which was strong at 40mph, made life hell for some of the world’s best – Getty Images/Richard Martin-Roberts

Watching on TV, former world No 1 Justin Thomas summed up the general viewing experience with his tweet “Not gonna lie, I can’t stop watching..” Thomas posted. “A PROPER links golf weather day. It is absolute carnage for those guys and (I’m sorry) it is fun to watch.”

Vijay Singh

Three-time major winner Vijay Singh went for the two-hat tactic in a bit to (unsuccessfully it seems…) combat the gale and rain – Getty Images/Phil Inglis

Cejka — no more the nearly man

Indeed, Cejka was the perfect winner. During the height of the Gustav Husak regime, Cejka  and his father — also called Alex — travelled by foot and train and by swimming and biking through what was then Yugoslavia, Italy and Switzerland, before settling near Frankfurt. Alex Sr, a degree-qualified engineer, originally fed the family by cleaning tables at a restaurant.

“He taught me a great lesson when we came to a different country,” Cejka said. “I didn’t know how to speak the language, I didn’t have any money and my dad didn’t have any money. You learn to fight, the survival is there, and that shows it doesn’t matter if you are 15 or 23 or 40, that drive is there.

“The whole trip, the whole situation made me into a person who thrives, doesn’t want to give up. If I fail, I’ll try again.”

The one man who was able to smile after some horrific weather on the Welsh coast — Alex Cejka

The one man who was able to smile after some horrific weather on the Welsh coast — Alex Cejka – Getty Images/Phil Inglis

This is arguably the high point of Cejka’s career, and not least because of the £400,000 winning cheque and the exemption into next year’s Open proper at Royal Troon. Playing under the German flag,  he reached a high of 33 in the world rankings and almost qualified for the 2004 Ryder Cup, captained by compatriot and inspiration Bernhard Langer.

At the 2009 Players Championship – AKA “the fifth major” – Cejka took a five-shot lead into the final round at Sawgrass before being overhauled by Swede Henrik Stenson. However, he is the “nearly man” no more, after seeing off Harrington for his third senior “major”. Harrington also finished second in the same tournament last year.

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