He was nearly knocked from his pedestal on Sunday, but in the end even a brilliant 62 by one of his chasers was enough to stop Jaco van Zyl from taking a play-off victory in the inaugural Investec Cup.
Hennie Otto played a characteristically brilliant round on the Lost City Golf Course with 10 birdies to reel in the high-flying Van Zyl and force a play-off after 72 holes spread over four days on the Millvale Private Retreat course, Rustenburg Golf Club and concluding with 36 holes at the Lost City.
“I watched the leader board all day,” said Van Zyl, “and I saw Hennie was 16-under through nine. And the next time I got a glimpse was on the 15th, and I saw he was 19-under at that point.
“After that, the next time you see anything is when you walk onto 18 green, and I’d been thinking he had finished on 20-under! I was 20-under playing the last, and I thought I needed four to win, and now I knew I had to work really hard.”
He’d put his approach shot on the left side of the green on 18 in regulation, and had a teasing chip towards the pin which was placed tight back right. He rolled that three feet past and had a knee-trembler for the birdie which secured him a place in the play-off against Otto who had played with such flair all day.
But that flair deserted Otto when he had his knee on his opponent’s throat in the play-off: Van Zyl had dumped his approach to the 18th in the water, and all Otto had to do was find the heart of the green on the 485-metre par-five closing hole.
Instead, he tugged it left and long, leaving himself a ‘Hail Mary’ pitch and putt to get up and down for birdie. His chip was inches short of being good, but left him stuck in thick grass on the fringe of the green.
There was still a chance for victory for Otto: Van Zyl put his fourth shot two feet from the pin, and tapped in for par. Otto had two-and-half feet to match that par and take play down the 18th once again – and it lipped out.
Dejected, he strode from the green, and left Van Zyl sympathetic to the plight of a man he likes and respects. “It’s not good to win like that,” he muttered as he strode to the presentation ceremony.
But win he did: Not only did he take his third title of the Sunshine Tour summer, but he cruised to the winning share of the Chase to the Investec Cup Bonus Pool, adding R2-million to his already substantial winnings for the year.
“I was always told if I play good golf, the money will take care of itself,” he said. “I’ve got a wife and two boys who will take care of the money – I’ve got a career to worry about.”