A final round 68 gave Darren Fichardt his fifth European Tour title at the Joburg Open in South Africa after a final day of exchanging leadership and instability at the top of the leaderboard.
It was unclear throughout the day who would come out on top at the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club but a birdie on the final hole of a reduced 54-hole tournament gave the 41-year-old victory over Paul Waring and Stuart Manley in tied-second.
Fichardt headed into the final round as joint leader with Waring at 11-under-par. Whilst, Jacques Kruyswijk lurked closely behind at 10-under. By the seventh hole Waring had the outright lead with a birdie, but a bogey followed immediately for the Englishman with birdies from Fichardt and Kruyswijk to take the South African duo into joint leadership.
Manley birdied the 10th hole to briefly join the leaders only for Kruyswijk to birdie the ninth and move into the outright lead at 15-under-par heading into the back nine. Leadership continued to prove an unstable position to hold as this time Kruyswijk followed with an immediate bogey to fall back level with Waring and Fichardt. A double-bogey on the 11th for Welshman Manley began a slip from the leaders.
All three leaders put themselves in promising positions on the 11th but Kruyswijk was the only player to capitalise and he regained his outright lead at 15-under. However, a missed birdie opportunity on the next hole was to be lamented as compatriot Fichardt snuck his five-foot birdie putt in, after a trip around the circumference of the hole’s lip, to join the leader. Waring only managed a bogey and fell two shots back.
The course of the final round took a huge turn on the 14th. 24-year-old Kruyswijk stumbled to a double-bogey whilst a 10-foot clutch par save for Fichardt left himself with a two-shot lead with four to play, and left Kruyswijk kicking himself back level with the trailing pack.
A birdie for Waring moved him into solo-second and just one shot behind leader Fichardt with two to play. Meanwhile, Manley closed with back-to-back birdies to post a final round 67 that proved to be more fruitful that it initially seemed.
More twists lay ahead in the story as Kruyswijk put himself in perfect position on the 17th fairway and Waring found himself with a decent line in too. Fichardt, however, found himself behind the trees far left and duffed a low recovery shot through the trees. Waring was unable to capitalise and pitched off the green but scraped a par whilst Fichardt’s second approach attempt left himself 12 foot for par and Kruyswijk had 9 foot for birdie. It was agonisingly close for the leader whose par putt lipped put; Kruyswijk’s birdie attempt slipped by right.
From seemingly out of contention and already in the clubhouse, Manley was suddenly co-leader with Fichardt and Waring at 14-under-par, but birdie or eagle opportunities presented themselves to the latter duo on the par five 18th. Waring found the forest and Fichardt the fairway from the tee; Waring moved into the fairway and took an approach to 12 feet whilst Fichardt attacked the green and chipped to two feet. Waring’s birdie putt lipped out perilously close and opened the door for Fichardt to seal victory at 15-under-par.
As well as a fifth European Tour victory and an assured leap up the world rankings from 313th, Fichardt earns a spot at the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in July; a reward that will act as a heavily consolation for it’s other two recipients, runners-up Manley and Waring.