Danie van Tonder stood at the 16th tee box of Royal Swazi Sun Country Club on Saturday and needed a birdie per hole for the next three holes in order to contend for the Investec Royal Swazi Open title. Over the following hour he played sublime golf to fill his birdie quota and finish in a tie for the lead on 48 points, which meant a sudden-death playoff.
During the first extra trip down the 18th hole the 23-year-old played his approach at the par-three to eight feet. He calmly sank the putt for birdie and celebrated his maiden victory, forcing Jacques Blaauw and Jared Harvey to settle for second place.
“Playing 16 I saw that I was a bit behind and had to make three birdies in a row, which I managed to do,” said van Tonder. “There are always nerves, that’s not the question, it’s about how you cope with it. I like pressure, so I just got over the putts and hit them in the hole.”
It was a long-awaited triumph for the Ebotse Golf Estate member, who came second at the Swazi Open in 2012 and was Sunshine Tour Rookie of the Year that season. Three years and 15 top-10s later the victory came.
“Once I made those three birdies I had the confidence and I was keen to compete in the playoff. After waiting for three years I’ve finally got the win, and there’s nothing better than winning in a playoff,” he said.
This week’s tournament employs a modified stableford scoring system that awards eight points for an albatross, five points for an eagle, two for a birdie and none for a par. One point is deducted for a bogey and three are deducted for a double-bogey or worse. Van Tonder totalled 48 points for the week.
“I enjoy this tournament every year. Last year I missed the cut, but the year before I came second. This year it came through, and I’ve finally got a victory now,” he said.
The former number one South African amateur moves up to fourth on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit and receives top points by winning first event in the Chase to the 2015 Investec Cup.
Blaauw took a solid crack at the title and made 18 points on Saturday. During regulation play the three-time Sunshine Tour winner had a 15-foot birdie putt at the 18th that would have secured the outright win, but he left it one centimetre short.
Harvey shot the lights out on Saturday and scored 20 points to tie for the lead. His round was the best of tournament and indicated his readiness to break through.