Lee Westwood Rolls Back the Years to Win at Sun City
HANDS up if you saw that coming. Lee Westwood produced a brilliant final round of 64 to overhaul Sergio Garcia and win the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City in South Africa. It was his first victory in four years.
It was the 45-year-old’s 24th European Tour success but his first Rolex Series title and it moves him up to 16th in the Race to Dubai and also sees him climb back into the top 70 in the world rankings. And as the top 60 players now head off for the Dubai World Championship at the Earth Course, only Open champion Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood can win the Race to Dubai after Justin Rose’s decision not to play in Dubai.
The Englishman entered the final round at Gary Player Country Club three shots behind Sergio Garcia, who had led from day one, but an eagle on the second put him at the top of the leaderboard and set up an enthralling three-way battle between the pair and local favourite Louis Oosthuizen.
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The three went shot for shot for much of a thrilling afternoon and it was Westwood who came out on top, with five birdies in his final eight holes to reach 15 under par. Garcia eventually signed for a 70 to finish on 12 under, one ahead of Oosthuizen who closed with a 69. Next came England's Ross Fisher on eight under, a shot clear of countryman Matt Wallace and China's Li Haotong, who needed to win to keep his hopes of claiming the Race to Dubai alive.
Westwood's triumph is his third at Gary Player Country Club after the Sunshine Tour's Dimension Data Pro-Am in 2000 and this event in 2010 and 2011 before it joined the European Tour International Schedule.
His last victory came at the 2014 Maybank Malaysian Open and he was fighting back the tears at the end. “I'm a bit emotional, to be honest,” he said. “You're never sure whether you're going to be able to do it again. Until now my emotions have felt really under control all day which is what I've been working hard on. I was just trying to hit fairways and stick to my game-plan and hit it in the right places.
“I've got a bit of a process that I'm going through with my golf swing and I'm starting to see better shots. The seven iron into the 17th hole was probably one of the best shots I've ever hit.”
Ever wonder how much winning means to these guys?— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 11, 2018
This much... ???? pic.twitter.com/Yjs27NfPOC
Garcia bogeyed the first after finding sand and when Westwood hit a stunning second to four feet on the par-five second for an eagle, he had a share of the lead.
Oosthuizen had a wonderful day with the putter and long putts on the third and fifth gave him the lead before Garcia joined him when he almost holed his second on the sixth. The 2010 Open Champion made a 20-footer on the seventh but ahead on the eighth Westwood hit a stunner to eight feet and an Oosthuizen three-putt on the same hole made it a three-way tie again.
A birdie on the par-five ninth put Oosthuizen back ahead but Garcia made the most of the par-five next and Westwood holed from 12 feet at the 11th. Oosthuizen birdied the 10th and a 30-footer on the next gave him a two-shot lead but Westwood holed from the fringe on the 13th while Garcia almost a made a hole-in-one on the 12th.
An Oosthuizen bogey on the 12th made it a three-way tie again but he birdied the 13th and when Westwood holed from the fringe on the par-five 14th, the two were at 13 under. Oosthuizen birdied the 14th after reaching the green in two but Westwood holed from 18 feet on the 16th and he led on his own when the South African three-putted from the first cut on the 15th.
"Under that sort of pressure that's one of the best shots of my career."— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 11, 2018
Westwood on his approach into 17. pic.twitter.com/leuio45vZq
Westwood then hit a brilliant approach to 12 feet on the 17th to lead by two and Oosthuizen went a long way left and double-bogeyed the last as Garcia finished with six pars.
Fisher, who dropped eight shots in his last four holes on Friday, carded a closing 70 while Li finished with a 65 and Wallace recorded a 67.
And there was victory for another “veteran” on the other side of the Atlantic when 40-year-old Matt Kuchar, who missed the Tour Championship last season for the first time in nine years, returned to the winners ‘ circle when he claimed the Mayakoba Golf Classic, defeating New Zealand’s Danny Lee by a stroke after a final round of 69. J.J. Spaun (66) and Richy Werenski (67) were tied for third, three back.
Kuchar struggled for much of the day and had to hole a tricky three-foot putt on the final green. “It feels extra sweet having kind of had to suffer through a year of not playing great in 2018,” said Kuchar, whose last victory came at the 2014 RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina. “Being four years removed since my last victory I realise how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour. I certainly made it exciting coming in. It wasn’t the finish I was hoping for; I would have liked to have been able to five- or six-putt that final green. Winning out here is so difficult. The strength of field every week is awfully good.”
He went into the final round with a four-shot lead, but then bogeyed the 14th and 15th holes, missing putts inside 10 and 5 feet, respectively, to make it close. With Lee on his heels, he closed with three pars to win. At the final hole he left his ball on the front fringe. It had mud on it and he wasn’t sure how it would affect the roll but he played to pretty well, leaving himself that putt to win, and he now moves to fifth in the FedEx Cup standings.
Kuchar was 76th in the FedExCup last season. He missed cuts during a season that he described as being “extremely frustrating.” And he turned 40 in a sport that is now being dominated in America by twentysomethings. “I've thought, man, kids are getting younger and stronger and it's more and more challenging for a guy that plays my style of golf to win and win multiple times.”
Kuchar shot 64, 64 and 65 over the first three rounds, and his final round meant he broke the tournament record at 22-under. It was also his best 72-hole score.
After holing the final three-footer, he hugged his caddie, tossed his putter to the turf and embraced his sons, Cameron and Carson. He kissed Sybi, who caddied for four holes in the first round after Kuchar’s playing partner Zach Johnson lost his caddie, Damon Green, to illness.
Kuchar was bitterly disappointed to miss out on the Ryder Cup this year, where he was only involved as one of Jim Furyk’s non-playing captains. He says that he still wants to win a major, and to play on the U.S. Presidents Cup next year. First, he is heading Down Under for the Australian Open. “Who knows?” he said. “Maybe 40 is the new 20."
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