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Nerveless teenager Hojgaard pulls off Mauritius win 1

Nerveless teenager Hojgaard pulls off Mauritius win

Teenager Rasmus Hojgaard of Denmark gave a nerveless display in a tense sudden-death play-off on Sunday to win the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open at the third hole after three players shared the lead after regulation play. He made eagle on the third play-off hole, after Italy’s Renato Paratore had been eliminated at the first, and France’s Antoine Rozner was unable to match his distance and accuracy on the third attempt to find a winner in the tournament sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the European Tour and the Asian Tour. “I can’t put it into words right now,” said Hojgaard after he was drenched in champagne by fellow- Danes Jeff Winther and veteran Soren Kjeldsen. “I didn’t think I’d win this early. Even to be on the tour this young is something I didn’t think would happen.” He became the third-youngest winner on the European Tour behind Matteo Manassero of Italy and New Zealand’s Danny Lee. “That’s cool,” he said. “I never thought about that. To win so early in my career is amazing, and I’m already looking forward to the next tournament.” He started the final round in a hurry, with a birdie and an eagle in his opening two holes, but a pair of bogeys on the fourth and the fifth seemed set to put the skids on his charge to the top. But he maintained an equilibrium that would have been admirable in one much older, picking up birdies on the seventh, the 10th and the 18th to get himself into the play-off. “I just tried to be patient and set up as many birdie chances as possible,” he said of his approach to the final round. “I knew I had to make a birdie on 18 in regulation to get into the play-off or an eagle to win. It was all about putting the drive in position, and from there on, I won’t say it’s simple, but you’ve got a good chance from there.” Once he got into the play-off, things changed a bit for him. “I was obviously nervous,” he said, “but I had nothing to lose in the play-off, so it was driver all day. Then, for the approach shots, I just kept telling myself to believe in myself and get the number right.” In the play-off, he made birdie-birdie-eagle on the par-five 18th to pull off the victory. “That was pretty cool,” he said. One shot behind Rozner and Paratore was South Africa’s Louis de Jager who closed with a flawless eight-under 64. After he eagled the 14th, he was unable to capitalise on birdie opportunities, notably on the 16th and 17th, which would have put him in the conversation for the title. He was joined in a share of fourth by Frenchman Benjamin Hebert, Scot Grant Forrest and Thomas Detry of Belgium, whose bogey on 17 cost him dearly. For Hojgaard, it is all about getting home to celebrate with family and friends. “I’m over the moon right now,” he said. “That’s all I can say.”
Detry edges closer to maiden win in Mauritius 2

Detry edges closer to maiden win in Mauritius

He’s almost breaking the door down now, and Thomas Detry of Belgium kept knocking hard on Saturday with a five-under-par 67 to head into the final round in a three-way share of the lead of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open. Despite bogeys on 12 and 16, the 26-year-old made seven birdies, including three consecutively around the turn at Heritage Golf Club as he set himself up for a tilt at his maiden European Tour title in the tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the Asian Tour and the European Tour. He shared the lead with Scotland’s Calum Hill and Antoine Rozner of France. “I've been in this position a few times,” said Detry. “I was in this position three weeks ago in Sun City at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. A few weeks before at the French Open, I gave myself a chance to win too. “I got off to a better start today compared to yesterday – two-under after five. A great drive on nine, hit the green there and got it going. I made two silly mistakes. I think we misjudged the yardage on 12, we hit the wedge shot about 25 metres short. Don’t know what happened there. The 16th is a bit of a tricky green very firm. But very, very happy with the way I played today.” Detry has produced round of 67, 66 and 67 in this tournament, and, with his only professional winning coming on the Challenge Tour when he won the 2016 Bridgestone Challenge by 12 shots from Thriston Lawrence with a record score of 259, 29 under par, it’s clear he can go low once again and run away with things. He turned in three-under 33, showing nary a sign of pressure, but the bogeys blotted his copybook on the homeward nine after he had started it so well with birdies on 10 and 11. However, he steadied things with birdies on 15 and 18 – the latter thanks to an aggressive approach from the left of the fairway to the pin placed close to the water on a narrow green. “We had a few good breaks, took advantage of the birdie putts we had. Very pleased with the way I played. Ball striking wasn't 100 percent on the first few holes, but I got some confidence and felt pretty good out there,” he said. Rozner looked as if he were going to be the sole leader as he reached the turn in five-under 31 with an eagle and three birdies. But he was unable to register another birdie from the 10th until the 16th where he dropped his first shot of the day. However, he made up for that with a pair of birdies to finish. Hill, the 25-year-old Scot, made six birdies and two bogeys to continue his good week and edge ahead of Danish teenager Rasmus Hojgaard and America’s Sihwan Kim who shared fourth place one stroke back on 15-under ahead of the final round. One of the most remarkable rounds of the day came from first-round leader Brandon Stone, who opened with a triple-bogey. He made three more bogeys in his first 10 holes, while somehow keeping his challenge barely alive with three birdies in that stretch. Then he turned on the turbojets as he raced home with six birdies in his final eight holes to card an unlikely three-under 69 and join Italy’s Renato Paratore in a share of sixth, two shots off the pace. For Detry, the push for victory will involve pretty much what he always does. “I think it’s all about keeping it simple,” he said. “Just play like you have been playing in practice rounds. It’s easy to say, but I think that’s how you approach the fourth day.”

Detry edges closer to maiden win in Mauritius

He’s almost breaking the door down now, and Thomas Detry of Belgium kept knocking hard on Saturday with a five-under-par 67 to head into the final round in a three-way share of the lead of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open. Despite bogeys on 12 and 16, the 26-year-old made seven birdies, including three consecutively around the turn at Heritage Golf Club as he set himself up for a tilt at his maiden European Tour title in the tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the Asian Tour and the European Tour. He shared the lead with Scotland’s Calum Hill and Antoine Rozner of France. “I've been in this position a few times,” said Detry. “I was in this position three weeks ago in Sun City at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. A few weeks before at the French Open, I gave myself a chance to win too. “I got off to a better start today compared to yesterday – two-under after five. A great drive on nine, hit the green there and got it going. I made two silly mistakes. I think we misjudged the yardage on 12, we hit the wedge shot about 25 metres short. Don’t know what happened there. The 16th is a bit of a tricky green very firm. But very, very happy with the way I played today.” Detry has produced round of 67, 66 and 67 in this tournament, and, with his only professional winning coming on the Challenge Tour when he won the 2016 Bridgestone Challenge by 12 shots from Thriston Lawrence with a record score of 259, 29 under par, it’s clear he can go low once again and run away with things. He turned in three-under 33, showing nary a sign of pressure, but the bogeys blotted his copybook on the homeward nine after he had started it so well with birdies on 10 and 11. However, he steadied things with birdies on 15 and 18 – the latter thanks to an aggressive approach from the left of the fairway to the pin placed close to the water on a narrow green. “We had a few good breaks, took advantage of the birdie putts we had. Very pleased with the way I played. Ball striking wasn't 100 percent on the first few holes, but I got some confidence and felt pretty good out there,” he said. Rozner looked as if he were going to be the sole leader as he reached the turn in five-under 31 with an eagle and three birdies. But he was unable to register another birdie from the 10th until the 16th where he dropped his first shot of the day. However, he made up for that with a pair of birdies to finish. Hill, the 25-year-old Scot, made six birdies and two bogeys to continue his good week and edge ahead of Danish teenager Rasmus Hojgaard and America’s Sihwan Kim who shared fourth place one stroke back on 15-under ahead of the final round. One of the most remarkable rounds of the day came from first-round leader Brandon Stone, who opened with a triple-bogey. He made three more bogeys in his first 10 holes, while somehow keeping his challenge barely alive with three birdies in that stretch. Then he turned on the turbojets as he raced home with six birdies in his final eight holes to card an unlikely three-under 69 and join Italy’s Renato Paratore in a share of sixth, two shots off the pace. For Detry, the push for victory will involve pretty much what he always does. “I think it’s all about keeping it simple,” he said. “Just play like you have been playing in practice rounds. It’s easy to say, but I think that’s how you approach the fourth day.”  
Hill handles Mauritius heat to take halfway lead 1

Hill handles Mauritius heat to take halfway lead

Calum Hill of Scotland weathered the heat and humidity at Heritage Golf Club on Friday to card a fine eight-under-par 64 to move to 12-under and a one-stroke lead after the second round of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open. It was very nearly a flawless round for the 25-year-old who won twice on the Challenge Tour this year, with just a single bogey coming on his homeward nine after he started on the 10th. He turned in five-under 31, and dropped the shot on the sixth – his 15th – to be just clear of first-round leader Brandon Stone, Thomas Detry of Belgium, and Matthieu Pavon of France in the tournament sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the European Tour and the Asian Tour. “I’m happy with that, especially to make a putt on the last hole to finish off a good round,” said Hill. “I made a lot of long-range putts – 20, 25 foot – probably made four of those. Managed to get the putter going well today, which added up to a good score.” Hill got a start on the European Tour in July when he played in the Scottish Open and finished in a share of 26th, and has found it relatively easy so far to step up from the Challenge Tour from which he graduated. “I haven’t noticed a huge difference yet coming from Challenge Tour,” he said. “Obviously the fields are stronger, but it’s the same as every tournament you play – you go out and do your best, see where that puts you at the end of the week, and dig in when you need to.” The Scottish Open of 2018 was Stone’s last victory, and, after a tough 2019, he is starting to round into form again. He also dropped just a single shot on his way to a five-under 67. “I was always in play, gave myself a lot of opportunities and managed to convert a fair number of them,” said Stone. Detry, who is yet to win on the European Tour, but has looked likely to do so soon, overcame a poor start with two bogeys in his first four holes. He went on to make an eagle and seven birdies, together with one more dropped shot as he signed for a 66. Pavon had a bogey-free journey around the course on his way to a six-under-par 66, with a birdie on 18 lifting him into a share of second. Five players were another shot back on 10-under at the halfway mark – Sihwan Kim of the United States, Connor Syme of Scotland and the French duo of Antoine Rozner and Benjamin Hebert – after a hot and humid day. “It’s been very warm – Leopard Creek was slightly different, it’s a lot drier,” said the leader Hill of the difference between the head for the Alfred Dunhill Championship and that on the Indian Ocean island. “Here it’s hot and humid so you are sweating buckets for the whole round, but I seem to be getting used to it.” The Heritage Golf Club also offered a different challenge. “Leopard Creek is very demanding off the tee. This course is a bit wider but there has been more wind this week which makes it tricky. You have to position it quite well. There are a few holes where you've got to keep an eye out. One errant shot can cost you quite a lot,” said Hill. He's relishing the experience as he builds on the lessons of each successive tournament. “The last couple of days the game has been nice,” he said. “Last week was a slow start and I played better at the weekend. It’s just built on from there.”
Stone rolls into contention with island life

Stone rolls into contention with island life

The heady mix of laid-back island life and the need to go low is what will exercise Brandon Stone’s mind as he goes into the weekend at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open on 11-under par and very much in contention at Heritage Golf Club. After a second-round five-under-par 67 to go with his opening 66, he had the afternoon off to contemplate how he was going to approach the final two rounds as he tries to close out his year with a victory which would be his first since July 2018 when he won the Scottish Open. In the surrounding beauty, as well as the tropical heat, it’s tough to keep the focus on golf laser-like as it should be if you’re chasing a win as well as a place amongst the world’s elite in the sport. “This week consists of doing a little bit of practice, playing 18 holes and then putting your feet up by the pool,” he said. “Yesterday for the first time this year I had a 45-minute nap poolside and then took a long romantic walk on the beach with my wife. It’s just spectacular. It’s a perfect way to end the year. You know, 2019 has been quite a tricky year with a lot of ups and downs, and to come here and de-stress is just fantastic.” That approach clearly had its benefits, as his six birdies and just a single bogey in his second round showed. “I’m very happy with how things went today,” he said. “I got off to a nice start this morning; a couple of birdies early which kind of settled the nerves a little bit. And then from there I just played great all day. Very low stress, always in play, gave myself a lot of opportunities and managed to convert a fair number of them and sitting 11-under-par going into the weekend is exactly where you want to be.” It was a dramatic change from the previous week at the Alfred Dunhill Championship where he played well enough but battled to make the cut. “Putting is an important component every week,” he said. “I think that was the missing factor I had last week because I felt like I hit the ball as good last week as I am this week, but I just didn’t convert. It felt like your back was against the wall, whereas this week, I’m giving myself a lot of opportunities and managed to convert the majority of those and that’s why I see myself at the top of the leaderboard and not at the cut line like I was last week.” With things as relaxed for him as they are, he’s upbeat about the action ahead of him for the weekend. “The target for the weekend is to go as low as we can go, actually,” he said. “The game feels quite comfortable and I know the guys will maybe tuck a few flags over the weekend, a little bit of breeze is forecast. It’s going to be a challenge and at the same time, there’s a lot of really top-quality players in the field, so you’re going to go out and try to shoot as low as you can and, hopefully, by Sunday evening it’s going to be enough.”  
Stone relaxed in share of Mauritius lead

Stone relaxed in share of Mauritius lead

Brandon Stone put a tough year behind him as he fired a six-under-par 66 on Thursday to be in a five-way share of the first-round lead of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open at Heritage Golf Club. His seven birdies and a bogey saw him share the lead with teenager Rasmus Hojgaard from Denmark, the French duo of Benjamin Hebert and Romain Langasque, and Scotland’s Grant Forrest in a tournament sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the European Tour and the Asian Tour. “2019 was a tough year,” said Stone. “I don’t think I was the only one that really struggled. I think on the European Tour, you’ve got 110 guys that keep their cards and I think 109 of them are always going to be disappointed. I had a few results towards the end of the year that really got some confidence back in the game.” Stone turned in four-under-par 32 on his way to what looked as if it might be a very low score, but a bogey on the 10th slowed his progress until the 14th and 15th where he made two successive birdies. Then, after being in trouble off the tee on the par-five 18th – he nearly hit his wife who was standing well out of danger on the left of the fairway – he recovered well for a final birdie to grab his share of the lead. Hojgaard was flawless through his opening round and took advantage of an early start which saw the wind less of an influence than later in the day. “Conditions are very good,” he said. “It's a course where if you are playing well you can see a lot of chances. I managed to take them today.” The morning field certainly got the better of conditions, and Hebert was one of those who took advantage. “The greens were very firm during the practice round and they were much softer this morning, so it was easier,” he said. “During the practice round it was very hard to reach pin high because the bounce was huge on the green. It was a little bit windy on the last nine, a little bit tougher, but I did well so I am very happy.” For Stone, finishing his competitive year in Mauritius is something he’s relishing. “I think we’ve had the best end of the year with these two events (Alfred Dunhill Championship and AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open),” he said. “I sat for a couple of hours poolside yesterday, weighing up the options of what we are going to do for dinner. There were more than enough ideas, and then I went to bed nice and early. Woke up to a beautiful island summer’s morning, took a walk on the beach with the wife and after that, I had to come and do a little bit of work and come and shoot a 66.” He’s got work to do if he wants to break free of his pursuers, though. In addition to the four with whom he shares the lead, there are none players just one shot back, including South Africans Keith Horne, Zander Lombard, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Jaco Ahlers.

Porteous issues Heritage warning

Haydn Porteous has warned first-time participants in the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open not to be distracted by the beauty of the Heritage Golf Resorts layout, saying this track can have a mean bite when the conditions allow for it. Porteous bought property at Heritage two years ago and while he admits that he doesn’t visit the Indian Ocean nation often, he has familiarised himself with the track when he has been down here. “I must say, it’s quite difficult to work on the game when you are at a place like this, he confesses. “I think every player can say that and we’d rather be spending a bit of time on the beach rather than practising and doing what we’re supposed to do here. “The wind is the first thing to look out for,” says Porteous, “if you get it on a good day, you want to shoot something worth talking about. But, when it’s windy, it can play very tough and I think then the course can show its teeth.” How does one go around this layout in order to shoot a good score, then? “The game plan will differ between what we get weather-wise,” he says, “if we get a windy week, it’s going to be a long and tough week. If we get a pretty flat, calm week, I think the scores are going to be really good.” Coming to Mauritius at the back of what was not really a trophy-laden season in Europe, Porteous isn’t too worried about the state of his game, and cannot wait to tee it up at Heritage on Thursday. “I wouldn't say that I’ve had the worst couple of seasons in Europe,” he argues, “I think I’ve been really consistent but I just have not been able to find the low one in me just yet, but you know how golf goes, it just takes one good shot to change everything.” Like many Sunshine Tour players plying their trade abroad, Porteous is delighted to return to warmer weather conditions ahead of his Christmas break. “Europe is tough,” he says with a grin, “sometimes the weather throws a few curve balls at us and no top of that, it is quite intense, so to come here and chill out and just remember why you play golf and enjoy it, is quite nice and refreshing. It’s nice to come out here and not treat it as a major.”
No pressure for Harding in Mauritius

No pressure for Harding in Mauritius

Justin Harding says he will not be putting himself under any sort of pressure when he tees off in the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open at Heritage Golf Resort this week and that his aim is to fix a few glitches in his game ahead of what’s looking to be a busy year for him. Harding’s adventures, at home and abroad, have seen him earn praises across the globe in the last two years and now coming to an end of what has been a breakthrough season for him in Europe where he won his first title on that tour, the Stellenbosch Golf Club member is just trying to kick back and relax. He won his first European Tour title at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in March. He birdied three of his last four holes to post a closing 66 and secure his first European Tour title in his 54th appearance. It was his fifth worldwide win in 12 months after securing two Asian Tour victories and two Sunshine Tour triumphs in July 2018 and May 2018, respectively. “I’m not putting myself under a huge amount of pressure. I’m out to have a bit of fun and enjoy the Mauritian lifestyle,” said Harding ahead of Thursday’s tee-off time. “I’ve got a few things that I am trying to work on, game-wise, that I’m hoping to implement next year, so I was quite happy with last week’s results. I played solid but the golf course played tough. I gave myself a chance. I had a bit of a bad finish, I played my last six or seven holes over par, which was naughty, but at the end of the day, it was a decent enough week. “There’s nothing, really, that I need to go in-depth in to in terms of what I am working on. I guess, I kind of felt like I lost my way a little bit, halfway through the year. So, I’m just trying to reimplement a couple of things that I may have forgotten. It’s an opportunity for me to start the new year on the European Tour season with a bit of a bang and if I have another top 10, then it’s good. “It’s been a decent enough year. If you look at it as a whole; 12 months, it’s been very, very good. It’s opened up a bunch of doors for next year, so I’m just looking forward to a good week and putting my feet up and enjoying a good Christmas at home.”
Higgo in big Sunshine Tour push for European status

Higgo fancies his chances in Mauritius

Leading Sunshine Tour rookie, Garrick Higgo, says he knows that his game hasn’t been up to the standard he wants lately but is aiming for nothing less than a win at this week’s Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open at Heritage Golf and Wellness Resorts. “I always fancy my chances when getting into tournaments but there are a lot of guys here that can win this week. I just have to play my game and play well. I don’t have any secrets or strategies except to play solid golf.” Higgo won his maiden Sunshine Tour title at the Sun City Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club, beating a star-studded field to the title in only his fifth start as a professional. He boasts three top 10 finishes and a top 20 on top of that Sun City win and leads the race to the Freddie Tait Trophy, a piece of silverware awarded to the leading rookie at the end of the season. “Hopefully, I can end it just as well as I started,” he said of the year he has had on Tour. He is teeing it up among some of the best players from the European Tour and the Asian Tour this week but he is not fazed at all.  “It’s my first trip here for the golf and I’m looking forward to teeing it up,” he said. “I haven’t seen the course yet but I’ll play my first practice round today. I have been resting a bit. The course looks nice and my caddie says it’s good, so we will see. I’m just going to have fun this week and play my best and see what happens then.” Of his plans for the next year, Higgo said, “I went to Qualifying School in Europe. It was good because I got through all three stages but I just didn’t get top 25 at the final stage. But the experience was awesome. I have my Challenge Tour card secured for next year and I’ll play there during our winter tour when we don’t have many tournaments.” The Afrasia Bank Mauritius is sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the European Tour and the Asian Tour. It is now in its fifth edition and a new champion is guaranteed because reigning champion, Kurt Kitayama is not in the field to defend. Will it be Higgo?
Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open: what’s what

Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open: what’s what

The Sunshine Tour returns to the magnificent Heritage Golf and Wellness resorts in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius for yet another instalment of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open which tees off from the 5th to the 8th of December. In its fifth edition this year, the ABMO is guaranteed to have a new champion as the American Kurt Kitayama who won it last year for his maiden and only Sunshine Tour victory, is not in the field to defend. Tri-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the European Tour and the Asian Tour, the ABMO is the biggest golf tournament on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius and boasts a purse of 1 million euros. Format 72 holes of stroke play The field 156 professionals from the Sunshine Tour, European Tour and Asian Tour Defending champion Kurt Kitayama (USA) – he is not in the field to defend his title The course Located in the southern part of Mauritius, the course is set on an idyllic piece of land between rolling mountains and the turquoise lagoon of the Indian Ocean. Accompanied by beautiful vistas from every green and tee, it is one of the most spectacular golf courses in Mauritius. The Heritage Golf Club offers a truly exceptional and enjoyable experience of golf in Mauritius for golfers of all skill levels. Established in 2004, this tropical golf complex was designed by the legendary Peter Matkovich and represents a gem amongst Mauritius golf courses. It boasts an 18-hole championship course, a 9-hole Par 3 course, exceptional practice facilities, golf academy, clubhouse, restaurant, and a golf shop. The complex offers five teeing options on each hole, making it the ideal golf resort for golfers of all levels. Form player The Sunshine Tour order of merit leader, Daniel van Tonder, has missed just two cuts in his last 13 events and boasts three top 10s in his last three starts. Van Tonder came third at the Sibaya Challenge, eighth at the Vodacom origins Final and last week at the Alfred Dunhill Championship, he came sixth to rubberstamp a successful season in which he claimed victory at the first tournament of the season, the Mopan Redpath Zambia Open in April. A three-time winner on Tour, Van Tonder has proven himself a solid competitor with a knack to produce the goods and this week, and in a tri-sanctioned event, he will want to prove himself on the biggest stage. And, having won two of his three titles on Tour outside of the South African borders, Van Tonder will fancy his chances against this strong field here this week. Sentimental pick Justin Harding will want to bookend what has been a really good year for him in Europe where he won his first-ever title on that tour earlier this year at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. He birdied three of his last four holes to post a closing 66 and secure his first European Tour title in his 54th appearance. It was his fifth worldwide win in 12 months after securing two Asian Tour victories and two Sunshine Tour triumphs in July 2018 and May 2018, respectively. Last week at Leopard Creek, Harding earned a hard-fought share of seventh place, five shots behind eventual winner, Pablo Larrazabal of Spain after posting a total of three-under-par for that tournament. While a win here will solidify what was a breakthrough season for Harding abroad, it will mark another great start to the new European Tour season by the Stellenbosch Golf Club member. Bolter While his skill and abilities can not be questioned, given that Martin Rohwer has proven himself a competitor to be looked out for, it would be something of a big deal if the Kloof Country Club player were to win here this week. Like Harding in Europe, this season on the Sunshine Tour has been a breakthrough season for the 26-year old. He claimed the Investec Royal Swazi Challenge for his maiden win and boasts three top 20s and a third-place finish which he earned at the Vodacom Origins of Golf final at Simola. He gave a good account of himself at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, opening with a round of 69 in testing conditions in Malelane. That round was followed by a 75, a decent score considering the test that Leopard Creek offered but third and fourth rounds of 76 and 78, respectively, meant that he finished 10-over-par for that tournament. Regardless of that, however, Rohwer has grown to be a competitor to be respected since joining the Tour via Qualifying School in 2017. A win here isn’t too far-fetched an idea for Rohwer and will only serve to affirm that indeed, greatness does begin here.
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Larrazabal puts his heart into victory in ‘paradise’

It nearly unravelled for Pablo Larazabal on Sunday in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, but he regained his composure to card three birdies in his final four holes at Leopard Creek to pull off a thrilling single-stroke victory. The Spaniard had to shut out the pain of blisters on his feet, which may or may not have been the cause of his poor opening nine of six-over-par 41, to mount a comeback charge and haul in Swede Joel Sjoholm and Wil Besseling of the Netherlands with his closing nine of three-under 34 and take his fifth European Tour title. “This morning, I couldn’t put my shoe on, I couldn’t walk to the buggy and I thought I wouldn’t be able to play because I had blisters,” he said. “On the front nine, I was playing the worst golf of my career, and I just decided to put my heart into it on the back nine.” Although he was visibly still battling the pain, he pulled himself together after tossing his driver aside after a poor tee-shot on the ninth, and pulling off his shoes and tossing them away in a frustrated gesture. “I couldn’t go through with my shots because I couldn’t put weight on my right big toe, so I figured out if I lifted it, I could make something happen – just put the ball on the fairway, or near the fairway, and I might be able to do something,” he said. It paid dividends almost immediately with a birdie on the short par-four 11th. But the comeback seemed as if it might be short-lived when he bogeyed the 13th, the signature Leopard Creek par-five which was playing very easy on the final day. But a hard-fought par on 14, a birdie on the par-five 15th, a rare birdie on the par-3 17th over the water, a good par on 17 and then an exquisite pitch to inside two feet on the iconic par-five 18th with his third shot saw him able to get his nose in front after he had quickly blown his overnight three-stroke edge with five bogeys and a double in the opening nine. Sjoholm, who was second-reserve for the tournament, and decided to travel to South Africa in any case – “I could watch lions for a week if I didn’t get in,” he said – was given a last-minute invitation into the field and he fully justified the decision. His final round of 69 had just a single bogey, unusual on a day when only 19 of the 71 players who made the cut were able to break par. Besseling fought to the bitter end with his closing 74, and finished up sharing third with four-time Alfred Dunhill Championship winner Charl Schwartzel and 2014 champions Branden Grace. Larrazabal has loved Leopard Creek since he first came here, and the bravery with which he fought for the victory and the emotion that spilled over after he won showed how much he loves it. “To be king of the bushveld for a year is very special,” he said. “I played my first tournament here, and I will come back here until I can’t play anymore. “I’ve been struggling with my game for the last four years, and to finally get the win in paradise is very special.”  
Viljoen relishing the Leopard Creek lessons

Viljoen relishing the Leopard Creek lessons

He goes into the final round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek this morning in the company of a Masters champion, and MJ Viljoen will tackle the task with a relish born of confidence. The 24-year-old from Bloemfontein has one win on the Sunshine Tour to his name, but with two top-10s to his name this season – including a runner-up finish in his last tournament – he’s clearly on an upward curve, and his three-under 69 in the third round at Leopard Creek in difficult conditions showed that very clearly. “I’ve had a couple of good performances before, but they weren’t in big tournaments,” he noted. “But learning from those experiences and coming to the big tournaments knowing that I have been in a similar position before really does help.” Learning as well as he has means he will be playing with Charl Schwartzel in the final round, a man who has won the Alfred Dunhill Championship four times and been runner-up four more. No doubt, Viljoen will be watching closely – and learning even more. His win came back in September 2017, and he became a little frustrated at not pushing on to become a more dominating player. “I’ve been working with Hendrik Buhrmann from last year this time,” he said. “I never had the knowledge of being a world-class golfer, you know, putting the club in the right position, hitting the ball in the right place and things like that. Just having that knowledge, and those little techniques – it really does help, especially the techniques around the golf course on any occasion. “Talent can only take you so far, and having knowledge really does help a lot if you want to be a world-class player. The knowledge is becoming a natural thing now. I’m not over-thinking any more. I’m just playing and getting around the course with that knowledge.” He’s showed he’s a quick study with his improving rounds of 72, 71 and 69 in increasingly difficult conditions seeing him climbing steadily up the leaderboard. At four-under for the tournament, he might be a long way off the lead which is at 11-under, but he knows that more improvement gives him every chance of getting into the mix. “I did set myself a goal for about 12-under to give me a chance to maybe lift the trophy,” he said. “But the course is playing so tough, and the wind being up makes it tougher. So 12-under is not out of reach but you’ve got to hit the ball brilliantly to reach that score. I think I’ll revise my goals tonight and I only found my golf swing today, so I hope the fourth round is going to be the best round of the week.”  

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