SOUTH Africa’s Darren Fichardt held his nerve over the closing stretch to seal a fourth European Tour title at the 1-million (R11.9-m) Africa Open in Buffalo City yester day.
The 37-year-old Tshwane golfer did not let the blustery conditions at East London Golf Club get in the way of his title charge and fired a one under 71 to continue SA’s proud tradition in this event with a winning score of 16-under par 272.
Adding his name to a trophy that boasts those of three Major winners – two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who won the tournament in 2011 and 2012 – added to Fichardt’s joy.
“It’s fantastic to win a European Tour event here at home,” Fichardt said. “I’ve won three times in Europe but I’ve always wanted to add a Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event to my tally.
“To have my name on the trophy with Charl, Retief and Louis makes winning here in Buffalo City just so much more special.”
Fichardt’s playing partner and co-leader Jaco van Zyl had a chance to finish second on his own, but the Dainfern pro pulled his approach at the last. A two- putt for bogey after the ensuing chip saw him finish with a 73 and Van Zyl will have to pin his hopes on the Tshwane Open in two weeks to break his European Tour duck.
Gregory Bourdy, who joined the title fight with a late charge when he reeled in three successive birdies from the 14th, dropped a shot at 17 and parred the last for a 70 to join Van Zyl on 14 under.
Birdies at 14, 16 and 18 for a 67 lifted SA’s Garth Mulroy to finish alone in fourth on 13 under, while Desvonde Botes (70) and Tjaart van der Walt (71) shared fifth with Englishman Andy Sullivan (68) and Mark Tullo of Chile, who closed with a 71.
Although things got a little scrappy towards the end, Fichardt was in control for much of the day.
Chasing his first win of the season and 14th Sunshine Tour title, Fichardt birdied the first and third while Van Zyl kept pace with successive birdies on the first and second.
The pair stayed together until Van Zyl fell behind when Fichardt drained a 35-footer for birdie at the par-four seventh to move one clear.
Van Zyl dropped two back when he three-putted the ninth for bogey and the gap opened to three when he missed his par- putt at the 12th.
Fichardt streaked four shots clear after holing a 25-footer for birdie at the par-four 13th, but Van Zyl caught a glimmer of hope coming down the stretch when Fichardt missed a tricky putt for par at the par-four 14th.
It almost looked as if Van Zyl had wasted his opportunity to close the gap when he pushed his approach at the 16th right, but Fichardt also made a mess of the par-four.
“Jaco was in with a shot when I tried to get cute with my approach,” Fichardt said. “I was trying to go for a birdie, but I guess I got too cheeky and ended up bogeying the hole.”
Van Zyl made short work of his birdie putt and suddenly the gap was reduced to just one shot.
Both players bogeyed the 17th and Fichardt held a mere one shot cushion playing the last.
“That last hole was pretty tough because it plays in the teeth of the wind,” Fichardt said. “I pushed my tee shot a little right but I had a good angle into the green. I stood there knowing that Jaco had made bogey and I had a couple of chances, but that last putt for birdie was one of the most nervy putts I’ve ever had to hole.”
His victory in his fourth start in the European and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned Africa Open not only vaults Fichardt into the top 100 in the world rankings, but the winner’s cheque of nearly R1.9-million, also gives his Race to Dubai and Sunshine Tour Order of Merit rankings a healthy boost.
“The two year exemption on the European Tour means I can stick around and play the next couple of weeks,” said the winner. “We’ve got the Dimension Data Pro-Am and Tshwane Open coming up and the new Investec Cup, and then I’ll take off six weeks or so to celebrate this victory and spend some time with my family.
“This victory has been a huge boost to my confidence. To win at 37 and know you can still compete. I want to make the world top 50 my priority this year and winning here at the Africa Open has set me on a course to the Majors.”