Fichardt steps up to win windy Africa Open

Darren Fichardt coped better with the wind than his pursuers on Sunday as he managed his way around East London Golf Club to a two-stroke victory in the €1-million Africa Open Golf Challenge.

He beat South African compatriot Jaco van Zyl and France’s Gregory Bourdy with his 16-under-par, and Garth Mulroy was alone in fourth, one stroke behind the second-placed pair on 13-under-par after his closing 67 – the best round of the day.

“I knew it was going to be a tough day playing with Jaco,” he said. “I know his game, I know he’s good, I know he can putt, I know he can get it up and down – and when I saw the wind was blowing like it was, I knew it was going to be a tough test.”

Van Zyl and he started the day equal on 15-under-par, and two quick birdies on the opening two holes by Van Zyl gave him an early edge which Fichardt erased with his second birdie of the day at the third.

A birdie at seven for Fichardt, and two bogeys by Van Zyl at nine and twelve saw the gap open out to three, and when Fichardt birdied 13, four shots seemed too much for Van Zyl – and for Bourdy who closed fast, but his birdie streak from 14 to 16 was snapped by a bogey on 17.

But there was still some testing ahead for Fichardt: On a day when finding the fairway was as tough a challenge as it can be when the wind blows as it did in East London, Van Zyl had a last throw of the dice on the driveable 291-metre par-four 16th, but he pushed his drive out to the right into the trees.

Even though Fichardt did his best to be charitable, taking five-iron off the tee and then leaving an easy chip on a horrible slope next to a bunker short of the green, the three-stroke gap Fichardt held at that point became impossible for Van Zyl to overcome.

Fichardt went on to make bogey there, and saw his lead cut to two with two to play. “I just lost concentration there,” he said. “I got too cheeky and tried to get a birdie. I should have just been aiming for the middle of the green with that kind of lead.”

Then he bogeyed 17, as a gentle 152-metre par-three became a monster in the wind. “It could play as a par-four,” joked Fichardt. “Jaco and I took five-iron off the tee, aimed 20 yards right and ended up missing it by 15-yards left.”

In the end, that four-stroke lead he had as he walked off the 13th green proved sufficient.

It gave Fichardt his 13th Sunshine Tour title and his fourth on the European Tour.

It was also the second year in a row that he has won a European Tour title after he won last year’s Saint-Omer Open, and it brought him his first European Tour title on home soil.

The victory also showed he can drive home an advantage when he gets it: He has a 100 percent record of winning his European Tour events when he has led or shared the lead going into the final round. He led by three at the 2001 Sao Paulo Brazil Open (reduced to 54 holes); led by three at the 2003 Qatar Masters; five at the 2012 Saint-Omer Open and two at the 2013 Africa Open.

It’s time to aim higher for Fichardt now. “I want to move that one step further – I’ve won on the European Tour four times now and I need to start getting into the majors and world events. I want to contend in those events; that will be my next step forward,” he said.

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