SUN CITY, SOUTH AFRICA (AFP) – Tommy Fleetwood made three eagles before winning a sudden death play-off and the biggest first prize in European Tour history in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club yesterday.
“This experience will live with me forever,” said the 28-year-old Englishman after defeating Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult with a par on the first extra hole to secure his first win in 22 months.
Fleetwood fired a final round of seven-under-par 65 to finish tied on a 12-under total of 276 with Kinhult, who shot 68.
The victory carried a prize of USD2.5 million. “Being a golfer these days, at a young age you have the chance to set up your family for life,” said an emotional Fleetwood.
“Of all my achievements that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Fleetwood started the final round six behind overnight leader Zander Lombard.
It was the biggest comeback win of the season and lifted Fleetwood into second place on the order of merit going into the Tour championship in Dubai, starting on Thursday.
“It’s a privilege to get to the last event with a chance of winning the Race to Dubai,” said Fleetwood, who won the season-long competition in 2017. “It’s an amazing thing to have in your career.”
Fleetwood and Kinhult pulled away from what at one stage was a crowded leaderboard as other contenders fell away in a swirling wind which added to the difficulty of the longest course on the European Tour.
Race to Dubai order of merit leader Bernd Wiesberger of Austria tied for third with Australia’s Jason Scrivener and Thomas Detry of Belgium, four strokes behind the leaders. Wiesberger and Scrivener both shot 70, while Detry, who started the round one behind Lombard, had a 74.
Home favourites Lombard and Louis Oosthuizen saw their hopes evaporate after starting the day in the final group. Oosthuizen was in the lead when he birdied the 10th but faded to a 75 and a tie for sixth place with defending champion Lee Westwood on 281. Lombard could not recover from a poor start and limped to a five-over-par 77 and a share of eighth place with rookie Robert McIntyre on 282.
While Fleetwood had a round of drama, with three eagles, four birdies and three dropped shots, Kinhult played near-immaculate golf, with five birdies and only one dropped shot.
Fleetwood made three birdies in his first six holes before his round ignited when he chipped in for eagle on the par-five ninth. At the next hole, another par-five, a magnificent seven-iron set up another eagle. He dropped two shots in a row before eagling the 601-yard 14th after what he described as “one of the best five-woods of my career” to set up a short putt.
Both golfers hit poor drives on the first play-off hole, the par-four 18th, with Kinhult hitting a tree which meant he could not go for the green with his second shot. Fleetwood had an awkward stance above a bunker and missed the green but was able to get up and down from a drop zone.