12 May 2008
After seven wins on South African soil Hennie Otto finally broke his European Tour duck by scoring an outstanding victory in the Italian Open at the Castello di Tolcinasco Golf and Country Club in Milan on Sunday.
Towards the end of March, Otto had narrowly missed out on his first European Tour win; he took a five-shot lead he took into the final round of the Madeira Islands Open, but ended up in a playoff against Alastair Forsyth, which the Scot won.
On Sunday, the circumstances were similar to six weeks earlier in Portugal; Otto enjoyed a four-shot lead heading into the final round.
He had been superb through the first three rounds; after opening with a seven-under-par 65, he turned in a strong 66, followed by a scintillating nine-under 63 in the third round for a stunning three-round total of 22-under-par 194. That left him only one shot behind the European Tour record for three rounds, jointly shared by South Africa’s Ernie Els and David Howell of England.
Given his form in the first three rounds, it was a solid bet that Otto would take victory. It duly came, but it didn’t come easily.
Early on, it looked as if the South African would cruise to victory after he increased his lead to five shots by sinking birdies on three of the first five holes. England’s Oliver Wilson was on the charge, however, and put Otto under pressure.
Wilson on the charge
After his opening birdie blitz, Otto played six holes to par, but then dropped a shot on the twelfth. Wilson, meanwhile, was four-under through the front nine and then nailed four birdies in succession from the eleventh to the fourteenth.
The Englishman settled for par on the last four holes to finish with a fine eight-under-par 64 and a total of 264.
After dropping a shot at the twelfth, Otto immediately pulled one back with a birdie on the thirteenth. In much the same manner as Wilson, he played to par the rest of the way to complete his round in three-under-par 69 for a 25-under total of 263.
His total was the lowest in the Italian Open since it was added to the European Tour, bettering the 265 recorded by Francesco Molinari in 2006. It was also the lowest winning total so far on the Tour this season.
Afterwards, reflecting on his win, the 31-year-old from Boksburg said his disappointment at the Madeira Islands Open helped him stay focused when he saw his lead slipping away. In the end, he played a superb drive on the final hole, with one foot in a bunker, onto the green, to ensure he captured his maiden title in Europe.
He felt his putting had let him down in Portugal. This time around, he said, his putting, especially from distance, is what won him the tournament.
Otto’s winnings totalled €283 330, which when converted to rands is in excess of R3.33-million. As importantly as the winning purse, his victory earned him an exemption on the European Tour until the end of 2010; it is a bonus that is hard to put a price on.
Otto entered the Italian Open ranked 154th in the world. After his win he is now ranked 76th, a massive rise of 78 places. His is one of nine South Africans ranked within the top 100.
Ernie Els tops the list, in third, followed by Rory Sabbatini, in fourteenth, and US Masters champion Trevor Immelman in sixteenth. Retief Goosen is in 30th place, Richard Sterne is ranked 39th, and Tim Clark 45th. Louis Oosthuizen follows, in 74th spot, with Otto two places behind him, and Charl Schwartzel in 85th place.
Italian Open Leaderboard
- Hennie Otto (RSA) 263 (-25)
- Oliver Wilson (Eng) 264 (-24)
- Robert Karlsson (Swe) 265 (-23)
- Philip Archer (Eng) 267 (-21)
- Marcel Siem (Ger) 267 (-21)
- David Frost (RSA) 276 (-12)
- Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 280 (-8)
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