Tim Thelen earned his second Staysure Tour Qualifying School Final Stage title as a final round 69 meant he finished on five under par at Pestana Golf Resort in Portugal, subsequently securing full playing privileges for the 2019 season.
The American carded rounds of 73-71-66-69 to finish one shot ahead of José Manuel Carriles, who clinched the second Staysure Tour card in second, while Dan Olsen finished third on three under par and André Bossert came fourth on two under par.
The final card went to Englishman Stuart Little who overcame countryman Peter Wilson in a play-off, birdieing the second extra hole to secure the fifth and final card on a dramatic day in Portugal.
Thelen, who was making his first appearance at Qualifying School since he won both First Stage and Final Stage in 2010, came out on top after three back nine birdies counteracted a two over par front nine.
Spaniard Carriles posted a level par 71 to safely earn a card while Olsen will play on the Staysure Tour for the first time in 2019, despite a four over par 75 on Day Four.
Bossert, who led Final Stage at the end of Day Two, dramatically earned his playing privileges with back-to-back birdies on his final two holes after a one over par first 16 holes had left his hopes hanging by a thread.
With four men safely in possession of cards, it was down to Little and Wilson to fight it out for the final spot.
Little, a two-time winner on the European Challenge Tour, holed a magnificent 30-foot putt on the 72nd hole to ensure he would compete in a play-off with his compatriot Wilson.
The duo parred the first extra hole – the 17th – and therefore teed it up on the 18th as the crowds eagerly anticipated a nail-biting finale.
Both men found the fairway with their tee shot, but it was Little who gained the advantage as he hit a superb seven iron to four feet and rolled home the birdie putt to defeat Wilson.
Tim Thelen: “It was great. I got off to a rough start on the first day and birdied two of my last three on the second, which got me into position. My third round was great and I hit the ball really well.
“I found something on the range on Monday or Tuesday and I just brought it to the golf course. It worked for three days, because the first day really wasn’t very good. I carried the momentum forward and had a good caddie this week.
“I knew I was going to get some starts this year on the Staysure Tour but I knew I wasn’t going to get in all of them. I’ve been on the Staysure Tour for eight years, this will be my ninth, and I’ve made a lot of great friends out here. It’s a good tour, a very friendly tour, and we get to visit a lot of the world.
“It’s very satisfying to know I’ve got a place to play next year. Players have come here from all over the world and you’re playing for five spots.
“With Staysure coming in and also David MacLaren coming in, the Staysure Tour has got more tournaments, more money and more travel opportunities. In 2018, I was in the UK and Europe for ten weeks in a row and never got to go home because we were playing in tournaments or pro-ams. It’s getting a lot better and it’s fun; I’ve got a lot of good friends over here.”
José Manuel Carriles: “It’s really hard work out here. The older I get, the harder it is. On the third hold I had a little bit of luck because I tried to aim a little bit to the right of the flag, but I pulled it a little bit and got away with it. I hit some very good shots today.
“I think I am probably one of the happiest people in the world right now, I am very happy. I like how I played and the atmosphere of the Staysure Tour is fantastic and I’m delighted to be back for another year.”
Dan Olsen: “I made 16 pars today so I missed a lot of putts for birdie. The greens are difficult and it’s hard to hang on here. You don’t want to hang on here but I made it and I’m happy.
“I’ve heard it’s a great Tour and I’m really looking forward to it. I played with a Spaniard today [Carriles] and he was wonderful, a great guy and a great golfer, and I’m sure it’s going to be indicative of the quality of the play here. I’m looking forward to playing with really good players, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
André Bossert: “I’m very fortunate to birdie the last two and not be in the play-off because that’s hair-raising stuff. I’m very happy and very blessed.
“I never thought I’d be coming back to a Tour School. I didn’t have a good year last year; I struggled a lot with the back and subsequently didn’t play well. The category I had would have meant that I wouldn’t get into a lot of the events and I love playing out here.
“It’s so nice to still be playing competitive golf so I came here and gave it a go and I’m happy to be back on Tour next year.”
Stuart Little: “I think, in reflection, it’s just nice to be back out on Tour. It’s been ten years and I had a desire to do it, so I came out here and I’m pleased to have done it.
“I had a good read for the putt in regulation, that was the key there. Mike Reynard was going first and I thought it was left-to-right, initially, but clearly it was more right-to-left, so I followed his lead and I was blessed.
“It was a really nice approach in the play-off. I took a seven iron and hit a floaty one to about three or four feet and I was really happy with that.”