Nervy Fichardt makes monster putt to stay in Match Play

Top seed Darren Fichardt overcame his nerves to sink a monster 60-footer for eagle on the 18th to win his opening match on Wednesday in the ISPS Handa South African Match Play Championship.

He defeated the 65th-ranked Michael Hollick 1-up in a scrappy match at Zwartkop Country Club in which Hollick had battled back to level on the 15th.

“I saw all the top guys falling yesterday and today,” said Fichardt, “and I said to my wife that match play is a game when you can never underestimate your opponent.”

And while Fichardt was dragging himself through to the next round, five of the top 10 seeds crashed out: number two Trevor Fisher Jnr lost 2&1 to Steven Ferreira, number three Oliver Bekker went down 3&2 to Wallie Coetsee, fourth seed Keith Horne was downed 3&2 by Keenan Davidse and seventh seed Chris Swanepoel was defeated at the 19th hole by PH McIntyre.

Fichardt put that kind of loss into perspective: “To be honest, I’m a bit scared playing the lower-ranked guys,” he said, “because they go out there with nothing to lose.

“They don’t know as much as I know,” he laughed.

And in a couple of rounds where younger players have been drawing on more recent memories of match play because their amateur days are closer to them than they are to some of the veterans, Fichardt pointed to experience being key. “I’ve got a lot of match play experience – I just haven’t done it in a while, but it’s good to do it again!”

He characterised his play during the match as “terrible”, but he turned it around at the sharp end. “I made a terrible bogey at 15 after being 1-up to go square again, and then I finished birdie-par-eagle,” he said.

Fisher was not as lucky as Ferreira, ranked 63rd, and, although he fought back to 1-down at 14, was unable to respond when Ferreira won at 17 to take the match.

“It wasn’t a great day of golf for either of us and I was down after the first few,” said Ferreira. “I found something in my game and managed to go 1-up, and after that I just hung on.”

Coetsee simply loves the format: “Match play is my game, especially with two-balls – we play quickly and there’s not a lot of waiting on the course,” he said of his win which saw him as much as 4-up on Bekker through 11.

Davidse credited time spent in the home of his friend, former sportscaster Eben Jansen, for an improvement in form. “I feel as if I’m at home, and when I’m relaxed, I feel I can play better,” he said. Better was enough to stay in front of Horne until matters were squared at 12, but then wins for Davidse at 13, 14 and 16 put him over the line.

McIntyre had a ding-dong battle with Swanepoel, drawing level on the 18th and then winning on the first extra hole in a tough match.

Those five seeds weren’t as lucky as Fichardt. And he doesn’t want to have to sink another 60-footer for a win, either. “That was a long putt,” he said. “And I actually thought I’d pulled it. But it was nice to make that one when it counted.”

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