Stenson breaks victory drought with SA Open title

It’s been more than three long years for Henrik Stenson, but the victory drought was broken as the rain arrived on Sunday together with a three-stroke victory in the South African Open Championship.

The Swede carded a final-round one-under-par 71 to hold off South Africa’s George Coetzee over the 7,096-metre (7,761-yard) Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate.

“It’s three-and-a-half years since I last won,” he said. “When it takes that long between wins, you wonder if there is going to be a next one. You’ve just got to fight hard and put all the hard work in because, with this game, if you don’t put anything in, you’re not getting anything back. So I’m very relieved to have won this one.”

And he needed to ward off a spirited challenge from Coetzee, as well as some ropey play of his own before he was able to lift the trophy of the second oldest open championship in golf.

While Coetzee had got off to a flyer with an eagle on three to trump Stenson’s birdie, two bogeys on the following holes from the South African would have left Stenson feeling a little smug – a feeling which would not have entirely disappeared when the Swede bogeyed six.

But a double bogey five on the ninth suddenly saw him slip back into the clutches of Coetzee, who was desperately keen to get his maiden European Tour victory under his belt.

“I just went back to type on a couple of shots today,” said Stenson of the tee shot he dumped into the water to the left of the ninth. “It wasn’t great timing to do that, so I just tried to think it through and do the right things going forward. Sometimes you need a poor one to wake you up.”

It certainly woke him up as he birdied 10 to draw ahead again. Coetzee responded with a birdie of his own on 11, and it was back to all square.

“I guess the turning point for me was 15 where I picked the wrong club and left my shot way short in the bunker,” said Stenson. “I was lucky it didn’t plug, and I hit a pretty good bunker shot and sank a tricky putt, while George didn’t hit the best of shots either , and was left with a difficult chip and he couldn’t get up and down.

“That’s where I jumped into the lead and then I tried to bring it home with some birdies on 16 and 17. I managed to do that and it was nice to have a three-shot cushion coming up the last,” he added.

And the welcome he received from the fans – as Coetzee generously stood back and allowed the Swede to drink in the moment – warmed the heart of the man who thrilled South African fans with a runaway victory in the 2008 Nedbank Golf Challenge.

“It’s been a great week here,” said Stenson. “I’ve felt a lot of support from the South African fans, so they must have been following me when I was here before. Obviously everyone was pulling for George, and I’m sure he’s a bit disappointed. But he played well and he’ll get that win in due course. Sometimes you’ve got to put a lot of effort in and position yourself a lot of times.”

Just as Stenson did in those lean three-and-a-half years.

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