Jaco Ahlers made birdie on the second play-off hole on Sunday to take a dramatic victory in the Stella Artois Players Championship at Dainfern Golf Estate, his 10th on the Sunshine Tour after carding a closing six-under-par 65.
He edged out Ockie Strydom, who was consigned to his 14th runner-up finish on the tour after also finishing with a 65 in regulation play. That was despite Strydom holding the whip-hand for much of the final round. It was only on the 17th when Ahlers made birdie on the par-three while Strydom made par that matters were level heading up the 18th.
“That birdie in 17 was very big,” said Ahlers. “I said to my caddie that if I could make that putt and then make birdie on 18, that would give us a good chance. Unfortunately, 18 didn’t happen, but I ended up getting the trophy anyway.”
Both Strydom and Ahlers missed what looked like fairly straightforward putts for birdie on the final hole in regulation play, and that saw the tournament go into extra time.
Strydom had got away well with a birdie on the first and an eagle on the second. He really didn’t put a foot wrong after that, making three birdies after the turn to look in cruise control on his way to what would have been a second Sunshine Tour title. But he made bogey on 15, and looked uncertain of any part of his game after that.
Ahlers made three birdies on the front nine, and, while he wasn’t going away, Strydom looked to be in control of matters. Then Ahlers dropped a shot on 11, and things looked increasingly unlikely for him from that point. “I had a hiccup on 11,” said Ahlers. “I was lucky to get back from that. But the putter’s been good the whole week and the short game’s been good. Ball striking no so much, but I’m standing here and that’s all that counts.”
It was indeed a good week with the putter for Ahlers, and his last round, in particular, illustrated that. He had just 25 putts in the fourth round, after taking 31 in the third round. Particularly impressive in the final round was the fact that every time he missed the green in regulation, he need only one putt to finish things off, and only once, on the 11th, did that cost him a bogey.
One shot back from the leading duo in a share of third were Tristen Strydom, Estiaan Conradie and JJ Senekal on 17-under for the tournament. They closed with 65, 66 and 67 respectively, and were a further one shot ahead of Jared Harvey and Jaco Prinsloo, who had 64 and 65 for their final rounds.
For Ahlers, there was sympathy for the man he vanquished. “Ockie and I played together for both rounds over the weekend,” he said. “It’s tough to lose like that. But I think this is my seventh play-off, so I’ve had a bit of experience with them. It’s nice to come away with the trophy. It’s been a while, and I’ve had a few seconds since my last win, so getting this trophy is brilliant.”