Hansen Claims Maiden Victory to Deny Nienaber in South Africa
Golfshake's Derek Clements looks back at the weekend's action from both the PGA Tour and European Tour.
Hansen proves he's a Great Dane but a star is born in Nienaber
Joachim B Hansen won his maiden European Tour title, securing the Joburg Open thanks to a bogey-free final round of 67. It took him to 19 under par and gave him a two-shot victory over South African sensation Wilco Nienaber, who at one point led by three before wilting under the pressure.
The Dane had entered day four a shot behind Nienaber and with the duo clear of the rest of the field, a two horse race soon developed at Randpark Golf Club.
Nienaber turned in 32 to open up a three-shot lead heading into the business end but Hansen displayed nerves of steel as he birdied the 10th, 12th and 14th to fight his way back to the top of the leaderboard at 19 under.
Nienaber got a remarkable break as his ball stayed dry on the par-three 17th but he could not take advantage, and Hansen parred his way home to win by two shots and become a European Tour champion in his 146th appearance. South African Shaun Norris carded a closing 66 to finish at 16 under, with another home favourite in Brandon Stone, Canada's Aaron Cockerill and England's Steve Surry six shots off the lead.
Hansen doesn’t normally show a great deal of emotion but there were tears in his eyes after he holed the winning putt to complete a long journey to European Tour victory 10 years after turning professional.
He graduated from the European Challenge Tour in 2012 and 2015 but had a breakout year in 2018, claiming two Challenge Tour victories en route to becoming the first Dane to top the rankings since Thomas Bjørn 23 years earlier. The 30-year-old had his best year to date on the Race to Dubai in 2019 as he finished in the top 50 and, after securing a top-10 finish at the BMW PGA Championship last month, he is now a winner, making it a Danish hat-trick in 2020 after Rasmus Højgaard's brace of victories.
"It's quite emotional," he said. "This is what we work for. The family will be watching back home. Wilco got in front quite quick, by three shots, and we managed to stick to our game and our plan.
"He's long, he's got some good things with the game hitting it very far and very straight so we knew we had to go out and do our own and do the things we've done the first three days. We succeeded pretty well today. I putted really well, almost haven't missed a putt inside six feet and holed a lot of long ones as well."
A two putt birdie on the par five fourth moved Nienaber two ahead and he holed a 20 footer for a birdie on the next but Hansen followed him in from five feet after a wonderful tee shot on the par three. An approach to 12 feet on the sixth handed Nienaber a three-shot lead that he held at the turn but Hansen cut the gap from 12 feet on the 10th. The pair both did well to save par on the 11th and Hansen played an excellent pitch over a bunker on the par five 12th to set up a birdie and cut the gap to one.
Nienaber leads the European Tour in distance off the tee at an average of 337 yards but he failed to take advantage of the par-five 12th and 14th and, when Hansen birdied both holes they were tied at the top.
The 20-year-old looked in big trouble when he found the wrong tier off the tee at the par-three 14th but went up the slope and through the fringe on a left to righter to get within 10 feet and stay at 19 under. He was inches from the water on the 17th and could not get up and down from an awkward stance, as Hansen played the par three beautifully to make a par under pressure. Hansen went from rough to sand up the 18th but played an excellent bunker shot to eight feet, completing a bogey free round as Nienaber carded a bogey after finding a bunker off the tee to sign for 70.
Norris made a single bogey and six birdies in his round, while Surry signed for a 67, one better than Cockerill and two lower than Stone.
Nienaber will be disappointed but we have perhaps witnessed the birth of a superstar. I am not one to say, ‘I told you so’, but in my preview for the Joburg Open, I wrote: “Keep an eye on 20-year-old Wilco Neinaber. He is a hugely impressive ball striker and a player many believe is destined for the very top. South African golf is in great shape right now and Nienaber has the look of a man who could turn out to be very special.”
And lo and behold, the young man only went within a whisker of winning the Joburg Open. When you think of big hitters you conjure images of individuals such as Bryson DeChambeau, who has bulked himself up to hit the ball a mile. Nienaber is different. Very different. He doesn’t possess an ounce of spare flesh but is able to send the ball out there 400-plus yards when he chooses to do so - in the opening round he had a drive recorded at 440 yards, and he also drove a 400-yard par four. He has the gait, swing and demeanour of a young Ernie Els but I am going to stick my neck out and predict that he will achieve even greater things than Els.
In Johannesburg we could have been watching the start of something very, very special. As with most big hitters, Nienaber missed quite a few fairways, but his recovery play was outstanding. And here is something to ponder - he is only going to get stronger, and every part of his game is going to improve.
"I'm really happy," he said. "Finishing second does suck, winning is the nicest thing but all credit to JB, he really played well. I'm really happy with the way I played, just made two mistakes at the end and that's okay. It is my first top two finish on the European Tour so I'm really happy. Finishing second is not the best, you're the first loser, but I'm happy with the week."
Nienaber knows how to get the job done. In a glittering amateur career he won 21 major titles - it is only a matter of time before he makes his breakthrough in the paid ranks.
Streb enjoys first victory in six years
REMEMBER Robert Streb? He won the RSM Classic six years ago and looked like a player who was ready to win a bucketload of tournaments. It didn’t quite work out that way but, from nowhere, he won the same event again at the weekend in a playoff. becoming the first two-time winner. He knocked a wedge within inches of the hole to beat Kevin Kisner on the second hole of their sudden-death playoff.
Streb became the first player since Dave Eichelberger in the 1970s to earn his first two titles at the same event but at least six seasons apart. Eichelberger won the 1971 and 1977 Greater Milwaukee Opens.
Streb’s first RSM victory came in a remarkable season during which he lost in a playoff at the Greenbrier, finished fifth in a World Golf Championship and 10th at the US PGA Championship. He entered the FedExCup Playoffs sixth the standings, ahead of Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy and made his only appearance in the Tour Championship.
“I kind of expected it would just kind of keep the same trend,” Streb said. It didn’t work out that way. He had more top-10s in the 2015 season (nine) than he did in the next five seasons combined (eight) and finished outside the top 125 in the FedExCup from 2018 to 2020.
“It was tough,” he said. “I felt like things were starting to get a little better and I wasn't quite getting the results, but I wasn't expecting this, either.”
Streb jumped 140 spots in the FedExCup to eighth n this season’s standings. He doesn’t wear a glove and uses a 10-finger grip.
He was the leader at the halfway mark with a career-low score of 128 (65-63) and began the final round with a three-shot lead. But he trailed by a shot after Kisner’s birdie at the par-five 15th. Streb three-putted the same hole for par, then missed a nine-foot birdie putt at 16. He tied Kisner with a birdie at the par-three 17th, where he hit a six iron to 11 feet. Streb parred the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Kisner, who shot 63 in the final round. They tied at 19-under 263.
Streb made a scrambling par after driving into a fairway bunker on the first playoff hole, then closed out the win with a superb approach. Both his RSM wins have come in playoffs but in very different fashion. Streb made double-bogey on the first hole of the 2014 RSM after snap-hooking his tee shot into a bush. He shot a final-round 63 after starting that Sunday five strokes back.
“It's really nice to say I've got more than one win,” he said. “Winning more than once validates what ability you have. It was just kind of unexpected and super nice to get this win.”
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