There’s a certain satisfaction in this day and age of communication by social media when you tweet that you need a low round to win a tournament – then you do it. Jaco Ahlers got his tweet dream to come true on Sunday and took home the Investec Cup Trophy.
Like his other two victories on the Sunshine Tour, this one came in a play-off as he weathered the challenge of Jaco van Zyl to clinch victory at the third extra hole as both players struggled to keep their game intact under the pressure of competing for so much money.
With his victory, Ahlers climbed to the top of the Chase to the Investec Cup rankings and took home R3.5-million over and above his tournament winnings of R163,400 – the winner’s share of the R10-million Bonus Pool. It was his biggest payday as a professional and confirmation of a coming-of-age process which began when he won a four-hole play-off to take the Lion of Africa Cape Town Open last November.
“That win gave me a lot of confidence,” said Ahlers. “I had a decent season. I was trying so hard to win, it’s not even funny. And then, winning in Cape Town the way I did, and then getting into the Nedbank Golf Challenge – that was unreal. It gave me that kind of confidence. I felt I could even play well when I was not hitting the ball that well. That’s the confidence you want, and that’s what I got.”
He started the round like a house on fire. He made three birdies and an eagle in the first seven holes. The eagle came on the fourth. “I hit two rescues and ended up in the greenside trap,” he said of the 480-metre par-five, “and then I managed to hole the bunker shot.”
Then he bogeyed the eighth – but just about everyone did, as nine of the 30 players dropped shots there. But he picked up three more birdies on the back nine as he marched into a lead which looked increasingly unassailable.
But a missed birdie opportunity at 16 and a bogey on 17 – again a hole which tripped up many of the contenders, including last week’s Tshwane Open winner George Coetzee who made an ugly double-bogey there – meant he had to try and force things a little on 18 to try and win the tournament outright.
“My approach went a little left and ended up in the bunker,” he said. “My ball was on a downslope, and the green ran away from me towards the water. My only hope was to hit the flag stick, and I nearly did. But the only thing that matters now is that I won.”
Van Zyl was the winner of the inaugural Chase to the Investec Cup in 2013, and he also won in a play-off. But, after he fired a six-under 66 in regulation, just like Ahlers, he was wayward off the 18th tee on the second and third play-off holes, putting his ball into the water on the right each time, and that sank his chances. He nevertheless finished third in the Bonus Pool standings, behind Trevor Fisher Jnr who led going into this final tournament.
Coetzee and Justin Harding shared third on eight-under in the tournament, as Coetzee finished fifth in the Bonus Pool and Harding 13th.
For Ahlers, it’s all about savouring this victory and all it brings with it. “I’ve just bought a new house in George,” he said, “and this means I’ll be able to pay cash for it! But I’m going to rest for two weeks and let it all sink in.”