By Michael Vlismas for Sunshine Tour
With his putter finally starting to fire, Hennie Otto began the final round of the SunBet Challenge hosted by Sun City with a birdie and just continued in that vein before making par at the first play-off hole to win the title at Gary Player Country Club on Friday.
Otto began the third and final day three shots off the lead, and apart from his three at the par-four first hole, he enjoyed the ideal start to his pursuit of his 14th Sunshine Tour title by collecting four more birdies between the sixth and 10th holes.
A veteran campaigner like Otto was not going to be overawed by the occasion either, as a trio of other contenders – Hayden Griffiths, Jovan Rebula and Martin Rohwer – also jostled fiercely for the top spot. On a windy day on one of the toughest courses in South Africa, Otto came home in one-under 35, for a final round of 67, thanks to another birdie on the par-five 14th.
A bogey on the par-three 16th was his only blemish, but the 46-year-old Otto showed the stuff of champions as he parred the testing last two holes to finish on six-under-par for the tournament, joining Griffiths in a play-off.
The 29-year-old Griffiths had shot a tremendous 66, also with just one bogey, to join Otto in the play-off, a clutch birdie on the par-three 16th sealing his place.
Unfortunately, Griffiths hit his drive on the first play-off hole, the famous ninth at Gary Player Country Club with its island green, way left into the bushes and had to hack out. With Otto just off the fairway on the right, the Johannesburg-based Griffiths had to go for the green with his third, pulled it left and landed in the water.
That left Otto with the routine task of laying up, finding the green and two-putting for the win.
“My game has been so good lately but my scores have not shown it because my putting has not been up to standard,” Otto said. “But today my putter started showing what it can do. Because I’ve been playing so well, I knew another win was close. On this course, in all the years I’ve played here, it’s all about hitting the fairway and making sure you don’t hit your ball in the wrong place. But it was even tougher today because of the wind and in the cold morning, your ball doesn’t travel so far.
“On 16, I had no real shot from the bunker and then I just had to make sure I made a four. And then it was just about making sure I parred 17 and 18. I actually nearly birdied the last hole, but my putt just lipped out.
“And then the play-off hole just became a formality after Hayden unfortunately hit his approach into the water,” Otto said.
Rohwer and Rebula both finished one shot behind on five-under-par and both showed excellent technical expertise on one of the most challenging courses in the world, before succumbing to late errors that proved very costly.
Rohwer was on eight-under-par and leading by two after he birdied the par-five 14th hole, but then dropped a shot at the 15th and then double-bogeyed the par-four 17th, finishing with a 67 that was not quite enough.
Rebula had reached seven-under through 13 holes, but then bogeys on the 15th and 18th holes left him with a 70 and saw him fall just short of the play-off.
Keelan van Wyk, who led after the first two rounds of the three-round tournament, unfortunately saw his game suffer a meltdown on Friday as he posted an 80 to finish on four-over-par, in a tie for 33rd place.