England’s Andy Sullivan defeated home favourite Charl Schwartzel in a playoff for the South African Open Championship at Glendower Golf Club in Johannesburg. It was Sullivan’s first European Tour victory.
The Englishman began the final round seven strokes behind Schwartzel, but Sullivan carded five birdies and an eagle in a final round of 67, applying the pressure on the 2011 Masters champion.
Schwartzel was still four ahead with five holes to play and looked destined to join the long list of South African greats who have tasted success in their home championship.
But he failed to save par from a plugged lie in a bunker on the 14th, then faltered further with a three-putt double-bogey on the 16th. Another bogey on the penultimate hole meant Schwartzel was tied for the lead with Sullivan on 11-under-par.
Although the South African managed to par the home hole, he was clearly rattled and wasn’t able to regain his composure for the playoff. Both men missed the fairway with their tee shots on the first extra hole, but Sullivan produced a remarkable recovery shot that set up a winning birdie.
“My caddie said over the last few holes 'no regrets' and I've definitely got no regrets over the last few holes, especially that play-off hole,” he said. “I hope the guys at Nuneaton Golf Club are having a few beers for me!”
Four things we learned at the South African Open Championship:
1 – Andy Sullivan.
The Englishman has made a steady rise to the top of the pro game. He remained in the unpaid golfing ranks until he was 25, enjoying a highly successful amateur career. He won titles in Argentina, Australia and Scotland and was a member of the victorious GB&I walker Cup team of 2011. He turned professional after that event and immediately gained his European Tour card at Q School. He has steadily improved since then and, last year, finished the Race to Dubai in 33rd place with top-four finishes in Morocco, Holland and Turkey. Sullivan is a columnist for Golf Monthly magazine in the UK.
2 – Charl Schwartzel suffered another agonising final day in the South African Open Championship.
Last year, Schwartzel birdied the 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes in the final round to go three in front. It looked like that tournament might turn into a procession, but a triple bogey six at the par-3 6th, then a double bogey at the 10th put him out of the running. Schwartzel has now finished in the top-five on six occasions in the South African Open, but is yet to claim victory.
3 – Schwartzel wasn’t the only man to stumble on Sunday at Glendower.
Young English star Matthew Fitzpatrick moved into contention at 10-under-par with birdies on the 2nd and 4th holes. But the 20-year-old former U.S. Amateur champion returned those gains with a double bogey on the 7th. His challenge then crumbled when he found the water on the 13th and racked up a triple-bogey eight. He finished in tied fifth, but he’ll take some confidence into the upcoming “Desert Swing.”
4 – Fans of the European Tour will have been pleased to see Pablo Martin Benavides finish in fourth place, as the Spaniard has endured a torrid time over the last few seasons.
In 2007, Martin became the first amateur to win a European Tour event when he claimed the Estoril Open de Portugal. He won two more events – The Alfred Dunhill Championships of 2010 and 2011. But from 2012 to 2014, Martin’s best finish on the European Tour was a tie for 34th. In 2014, he earned less than €3,000 on the circuit and his World Ranking slipped to 1,548. Hopefully this result will act as a springboard for Martin Benavides.