SOUTHEND golfer Matt Southgate says he will have to re-evaluate his targets for the year after producing a career-best performance to finish fourth at the Irish Open last weekend.

The 28-year-old Thorpe Hall Golf Club member carded a stunning eight under par finish (to close on 280) at the K Club, just four shots off the eventual winner Rory McIlroy.

His birdie on the 18th hole ensured a 200,000 euro prize and saw him leap from 148th to 51st in the season ending Race to Dubai.

Perhaps most fittingly, it secured Southgate’s European Tour card for another season after a rollercoaster 10 months saw him only win a place on the tour at the final hole at Qualifying School in November.

And he said it was a wonderful feeling, as he drove back to Southend to celebrate with family and friends.

“I was a shot in front of Tyrell Hatton so I knew I needed to get a birdie to get fourth place on my own as that would have made a massive difference to prize money,” he said. “It was a year’s salary with the hit of a ball!

“There were thousands of people there and the noise was incredible. I had cheers when I played at The Open in the past but nothing like this. When I made the put I could feel the roar hit me and I have never experienced anything like it. Now I want to experience it again.

“The big thing for me was I wanted to prove I could do it on that stage,” he continued. “I believe in my ability but it is different when you are doing it on a Saturday with Rory McIlroy. You need to trust yourself as I knew I was playing well and I proved it.

“I didn’t know him (McIlroy) before and it was quite something playing alongside him. We were really egging each other on and he was genuinely pleased when I made a good score or played a good hole. He is a real gentleman.”

The result was made even more remarkable as Southgate wasn’t scheduled to compete in the event until two days before it began, as only a number of withdrawals ensured the first reserve teed off on Thursday.

But Southgate shot rounds of two under par, three under par, one over par and a superb final round of four under par to propel him up the rankings and book his place at this week’s BMW PGA Championship, at the Wentworth Club in Surrey.

Southgate will now compete in his sixth European Tour event in six weeks following a traumatic period in the golfer’s life. Just last July, Southgate underwent surgery having been diagnosed with testicular cancer while playing on the second-tier Challenge Tour and looking after his two-year-old niece Hattie, who has leukaemia.

“My goal at the start of the season was to simply get onto the European Tour for next season and I have done that and we are only in May,” he said. “It really takes the pressure off for the rest of the season so I look forward to seeing how that affects my game.

“It was great seeing the videos from home,” he said. “All my friends and family were watching in the club house and the pictures are brilliant. I was sent a video off me making the final putt and everyone went mad. It was brilliant to see them all smiling.”

For a full preview ahead of Thursday’s BMW PGA Championship, see Thursday’s Echo.