South African Darren Fichardt held his nerve to birdie the 18th hole on Sunday to seal victory at the Joburg Open and book his spot at the Open Championship later this year.
The 41-year-old from Pretoria walked up to the 18th green feeling quite anxious about his final putt which he holed with the new putter and grip he put in play this week.
“I was pretty nervous when I walked up to make that final putt,” said Fichardt, who was then tied on 14-under par with Stuart Manley of Wales and England’s Paul Waring. “I haven’t tried that putter and grip under pressure before, you don’t know how badly it could go (in that situation).
“I called my caddie over just to get a bit of release but when I hit that putt and it went in the hole, that was an awesome moment.”
Birdie on the 18th staved off a playoff and ensured a one-shot victory and an end to a winless streak that went back more than a year.
Manley and Waring finished tied for second place on 14-under par with England’s James Morrison and South Africans Brandon Stone and Jacques Kruyswijk finishing tied for third on 13-under par.
Fichardt, Manley and Waring have all now qualified for the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in July after taking the three top spots up for grabs here.
But the tournament at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club looked headed for a trouble as rain delays forced late starts, early finishes and periods of no play as the East and West courses were battered with over 200 millimetres of rain this week.
Following all the delays, organisers were forced to shorten the tournament to 54 holes to avoid a Monday finish. The lead changed hands many times, but Fichardt – not one of the biggest hitters on the tour – consistently went under par, keeping the mistakes to a minimum with rounds of 66, 66 and 68.
Fichardt’s last win on the tour came in 2015 at the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final. The win this week on a courses that favours long hitters surprised even him.
Said Fichardt: “I’m very thrilled, it’s one tournament I didn’t think I’d win. But I guess if it’s your week, it’s your week.
“I’ve been hitting it really well and it was just a matter of figuring out my chipping and putting. I knew that if I figured it out, I’d be back in the winners’ circle.”
As for qualifying for the Open Championship, Fichardt is looking forward to changing up his schedule.
“I’m so excited. I can’t wait to sit down and take this all in. My year is going to look a lot different, I’m going to plan a lekker schedule.”
Fichardt is a bit of veteran on the tour having turned pro in 1994 but this week also saw a number of youngster shine in the gloomy Joburg weather. There was heartbreak for 25-year-old Jacques Kruyswijk who led for a few holes on Sunday but a bogey and double-bogey on the back nine saw his hopes fade. Two bogeys for Brandon Stone (24) ended his charge while Keenan Davidse (27) had three bogeys in the final round that put paid to his chances.
Davidse, who became a dad for the first time on Wednesday, arrived at the course just an hour before his tee-off time but put in a valiant effort to go three rounds under par in a crazy week for him.
“I didn’t even play a practice round,” said Davidse. “I have a beautiful boy, he is such a blessing and he gave me a lot of strength this week. This performance was for him and my wife.”
The tour moves to Pretoria next week for the Tshwane Open, where everyone will be hoping for better weather.