South African golfers in winning form

15 December 2008

It was a good weekend for South African golfers as Richard Sterne claimed the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek and Tim Clark captured the Australian Open at Royal Sydney after both courses bared their teeth in the final round.

Thomas Aiken had stolen the headlines at Leopard Creek, with a blistering course record of 11-under-par 61 in the third round. It was four shots better than the next best effort – 65 by Keith Horne – and took him into a one-shot lead over the USA’s Len Mattiace on 18-under-par 198.

A group of four players followed four shots off the pace, including Sterne, Sweden’s Oskar Henningsson, and England’s David Lynn and Robert Rock.

Unpredictable

The unpredictable nature of golf soon showed its face as Aiken struggled with his game. He started strongly with two birdies in the first four holes, but finishing the front nine with a bogey.

The inward nine took the title away from Aiken; he bogeyed the tenth and then double-bogeyed the eleventh. After settling into a steady stream of pars, he finished with a bogey on the final hole.

While he went backwards, Mattiace moved to the top of the leaderboard, but Leopard Creek was done with generosity for the co-sponsored Sunshine and European Tour event and bit back hard.

Tumbled

The American tumbled down the standings with a horrific triple-bogey seven at the fourteenth and a second triple-bogey – this time an eight – at the eighteenth.

Sterne, meanwhile, exited the front nine with two birdies – at the third and eighth – but then dropped shots at the tenth and twelfth to fall back to level par for his round. His response was excellent, however, as he sank three birdie putts in succession to take him to three-under-par through 15 holes.

Successive pars took him to the testing eighteenth, which had been unkind to him in the previous two rounds. Sterne had made a birdie in the first round, but followed that with a triple-bogey and a double-bogey in the next two rounds. This time he managed a par.

Challenge over

Despite Aiken’s struggles, he had an opportunity to force a playoff with a birdie on the eighteenth, but when he found the water his challenge was over.

Sterne won on 17-under-par 271 and picked up the winner’s cheque of €158 500 – roughly R2.16-million. It was his fourth European Tour victory.

Sweden’s Johan Edfors equalled the day’s best round of six-under-par 66 to move into a share of second with England’s Robert Rock on 16-under 272.

Aiken was forced to settle for a share of fourth with Spain’s Rafael Cabrera Bello on 273.

Australian Open surprise

Down Under, Tim Clark scored a victory in the Australian Open that came as a big surprise to him; he was busy enjoying lunch, thinking his tournament was over, when he was summoned to take part in a playoff.

Earlier, the South African star, who had contested the Australian Masters and the Australian PGA the previous two weeks, didn’t seem to be in the running despite firing the final round’s best score of five-under-par 67, which left him on nine-under 279 for the tournament.

Out on the course, third round leader David Smail of New Zealand appeared to be in complete control of his destiny. He had posted two birdies on the outward nine and his nearest challengers had slipped further back. His lead was four shots.

Lead evaporated

Even a dropped shot at the tenth didn’t seem to be that bad and Smail went on to par the next four holes. Then it all went wrong for the Kiwi at the fifteenth where he suffered a double-drop. Another double-bogey followed on the sixteenth and his comfortable lead had evaporated.

Pars on the last two holes left Smail a shot adrift of Clark – who had begun the final round seven shots behind the New Zealander – and Matthew Goggin, who had closed with a 69.

After Clark was summoned from his lunch, he and Goggin headed for the first playoff hole. It was soon advantage Goggin when Clark found a bunker with his approach to the green.

However, he recovered with a superb shot that took him to just two-and-a-half metres from the pin. Goggin’s birdie attempt came up short and Clark then sank his putt for par. When Goggin missed his putt the title was Clark’s.

Legends

He became the third South African to win the Australian Open, following in the footsteps of the legendary Gary Player, a seven-time champion, and Bobby Locke, the winner in 1955.

His win was worth A$270 000 – about R1.82-million.

Clark will next be in action at Pearl Valley Golf Estates – as will be Alfred Dunhill champion Richard Sterne – in the South African Open from 18 December.

Clark is one of five South Africab players ranked in the world’s top 50; the others are Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Rory Sabbatini, and Retief Goosen and they will all be contesting the SA Open.

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