Tommy Fleetwood Breaks the Bank With $2.5m Win at Sun City
THE Nedbank Challenge has a history of producing dramatic finishes at Sun City and this year’s event was no exception, with Tommy Fleetwood finally securing his first title of 2019 after beating Sweden Marcus Kinhult in a playoff. It takes him to second place in the Race to Dubai and gives him a great chance to win it again when he tees it up at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship on Thursday. This was his first victory in 22 months and it clearly meant a huge amount to him as he fought back the tears after holing the winning putt.
It was the 10th playoff in the 38-year history of the event, hosted by the legendary Gary Player, but the pressure this time was enormous, with a record European Tour prize of $2.5m on the line. Fleetwood and Kinhult had finished tied at 12 under par, four ahead of their nearest challengers. Kinhult, who had driven magnificently during regulation play, hit a tree when the players returned to the 18th, a 506-yard par four, while Fleetwood left himself with an awkward stance beside a bunker. Kinhult had to chip out and took three to reach the green. Fleetwood hit his second with the ball way above his feet and almost shanked it but he then produced a fantastic pitch. The Swede hit a poor fourth shot but holed out for a bogey, leaving Fleetwood a putt for victory, which he converted.
“The money is not that important,” Fleetwood said. “I am very proud of what I have done this week. It’s great. We are so lucky that as young men we get a chance to set up our families for life. Happy days. It was a privilege to win the Race to Dubai in 2017 and I would love to do it again."
Fleetwood found sand at the opening hole. The odds were on him dropping a shot but he produced a miraculous recovery and walked off with a par. It got him going. He birdied the second and fifth and then chipped in for an eagle at the ninth. And when he followed it with another eagle at the 10th he was tied with Louis Oosthuizen for the lead at 12 under par. The Englishman has not missed a cut all year but victory had eluded him. He began the day six shots off the lead but was now looking like the man to beat.
Oliver Wilson was going nicely until he came to the eighth hole, where a double-bogey dropped him back to five under par and outside the top 10. He would need some run if he were to secure his place in the Dubai World Championship and it didn’t happen. Wilson has gone through more highs and lows than most. A former Ryder Cup player, he lost his card and had to go back to qualifying school, but he has enjoyed a decent season and is trying to approach the game with a new attitude.
“Listen, I sometimes think that we forget how lucky we are to be out here,” he said. “Yes, I have been through some rough times with my game, but I have a family who love me and some great friends so I think it is important to keep things in perspective. I get to play some of the best golf courses in the world in great weather. What’s not to like?” Well said indeed.
There are many who believe that the floodgates will open for Belgium’s Thomas Detry when he finally get his first big win under his belt. He struck the ball superbly but just couldn’t buy a putt and, as the pressure began to tell, so his driving became increasingly awry. And Zander Lombard, playing in the final group with Detry and Oosthuizen, was also going backwards.
Incredibly, Fleetwood found himself leading by one when Oosthuizen missed a short par putt at the eighth.
Race to Dubai leader Bernd Wiesberger has had a year to remember and found himself in contention yet again, reaching eight under par at the turn and adding a birdie at the 10th. A victory here would send him to the Dubai World Championship as Race to Dubai winner. His stroke average in Rolex Series events this year is a fantastic 68.31, almost three shots per round better than he manages in run-of-the-mill events. He has clearly become a man for the big occasion.
There was also another remarkable performance from Robert MacIntyre, the Scot who is involved in a ding-dong battle with Kurt Kitayama for rookie of the year honours. MacIntyre was six under par for the day after 13 holes and eight under for the tournament. That he was just four off the lead was hard to believe when you consider that he required 16 blows to play the ninth and 14th holes during the second round. It is a measure of this young man that he was able to shrug it off and battle his way back up the leaderboard. Sadly, he dropped shots at the 16th and 17th but it still amounted to yet another fine week for the youngster. Kitayama dropped shots at the final three holes to come home in 40. It means MacIntyre heads to Dubai in 11th place in the rankings, with Kitayama 12th.
Fleetwood’s first real test came at the 11th. A wayward drive found thick rough and he could only chop the ball forward about 70 yards. His third shot at the par four finished at the back of the green and he missed the putt. Now we had a three-way tie between Fleetwood, Oosthuizen and Kinhult, who reached the turn in 33. Oosthuizen opted to lay up at the ninth but gave himself a golden opportunity for another birdie with a glorious approach. However, the putt slid beyond the hole and he had to settle for a par. Fleetwood, meanwhile, dropped another shot at the 12th and was now one behind Kinhult and Oosthuizen.
Putts had been going in from all angles but, suddenly, everybody seemed to be making mistakes. Apart from Wiesberger, whose birdie at the 11th took him to 10 under. Detry’s challenge ended at the 10th where he missed the green with an eight iron and then fluffed two pitch shots on his way to a bogey. Oosthuizen birdied the same hole to move back to 12 under. Kinhult 11 under, Fleetwood and Wiesberger 10 under.
Just when he seemed to be on cruise control, Oosthuizen came to the 11th, pulled a three wood from the bag and hit an awful shot into the jungle, never to be seen again. His third shot finished among the trees to the left of the fairway. He was staring a double-bogey - or worse - in the face. He somehow managed to find the green with his fourth.
Wiesberger birdied the 12th to move to 11 under. He couldn’t, could he? Fleetwood still had something to say about and hit the shot of the week at the par-five 14th, leaving himself a six-foot putt for his third eagle of the day. In it went and he was tied for the lead again at 12 under - and when Oosthuizen holed out for a six at the 11th, the Englishman led on his own. And it was two shots at the 15th after an outrageous piece of good fortune - his approach hit a pop-up sprinkler behind the green and the ball finished 10 feet from the hole, from where he duly added another birdie. He was eight under for the round and 13 under for the week.
A wayward tee shot at the par-three 16th cost Fleetwood a shot. Back to 12 under. Lead back to one. And Oosthuizen wasn’t finished yet, a birdie at the 13th taking him to 11 under. But he gave it straight back at the next and also bogeyed the 15th. Kinhult had a great opportunity to join Fleetwood at the 14th but missed a short birdie putt. And when Wiesberger hit a wayward drive at the 15th it cost him a bogey and dropped him back to 10 under, followed by another at the 16th.
And so Fleetwood came to the final hole still leading by one. He split the fairway with his drive and struck his approach to 25 feet. As the Englishman wandered up to the green, Kinhult was holing an unlikely birdie putt at the 15th to join Fleetwood on 12 under. With everybody else faltering, it all came down to Fleetwood and Kinhult. Fleetwood parred the last for a 65. He now had to wait to see whether his 12 under par total would be good enough.
Kinhult, a 23-year-old Swede who won the British Masters at Hillside but hasn’t had a top-10 finish since, safely parred the 16th and 17th holes and so the equation as he came to the 18th was simple - a birdie to win, a par to force a playoff. Wiesberger’s woes continued when he found tree trouble at the last but Kinhult had no such problems, striking a glorious drive. But he pulled his approach into the grandstand and required a free drop. Could he get up and down in two? He played a wonderful pitch and run, leaving himself a three-foot putt to tie with Fleetwood, which he duly holed for a round of 68.
Defending champion Lee Westwood finished with a 71 and a seven-under-par total.
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