Michiel Bothma and Mwai Kibaki, President of Kenya (pic by Icon Media) ()
Eleven years after his compatriot Trevor Immelman won the event, South African Michiel Bothma triumphed at the Barclays Kenya Open to capture his first Challenge Tour title.
His victory by two shots from fellow South African Tyrone Ferreira was sweet relief for Bothma, who had won previously on his native Sunshine Tour but never in five seasons on the Challenge Tour.
The man from Pretoria, who played in the final group with his cousin Branden Grace and room-mate André Bossert, got his round off to the best possible start with a birdie on the first hole at Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi, Kenya.
Bothma promptly added another birdie at the fourth hole, before dropping his only shot in an otherwise immaculate round of 68 at the par three fifth hole.
Despite finding trouble off the tee the 38 year old recovered to notch his third birdie at the tenth hole, and a further gain at the 15th hole gave him a comfortable advantage which he would never relinquish, with three closing pars moving him to 14 under par and beyond reach.
Bothma received the trophy from Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and a winner’s cheque for €30,400 which moved him to the top of the Challenge Tour Rankings, and gave him every chance of claiming a European Tour card for the first time.
He said: “I’ve always loved this tournament and this course, and now I love it even more. I finished tenth here last year, and I told my caddie afterwards that I would win it this year, as long as I could cut out the silly mistakes I’d made. Luckily for me, it came true. My gameplan today was just to play conservatively, because yesterday I’d made too many bogeys. I was only going to start firing at the greens if someone was making a charge, otherwise I told myself to aim for the middle of the green, and the tactic paid off for me.
“I really enjoyed playing with Branden and André today, we were laughing and joking the whole way round, which helped to settle the nerves. There weren’t many leaderboards out there so I didn’t know what everyone else was doing, but I didn’t hear any big roars so I was pretty confident of winning, as long as I didn’t do anything silly. It was a real relief to know that a par would be good enough on the last hole, and that was the first time I was really able to relax.
“So I couldn’t be happier, and I’m delighted to deliver another Open title into South African hands. Louis [Oosthuizen] won The Open Championship last year and the Africa Open at the start of this season, Ernie [Els] is currently the South African Open Champion and now I’m the winner of the Barclays Kenya Open, which makes me a very proud man. And to follow in the footsteps of Trevor [Immelman] is obviously a huge honour. The goal now is to get onto The European Tour, and then after that, who knows? If Vijay Singh can become the World Number One at 42, then surely I can get into the top 50 at the same age!”
Ferreira is without a Challenge Tour category this year, but did his prospects of receiving further sponsors’ invitations no harm at all with a superb closing round of 67 to finish on 12 under par.
His runner-up finish secured the South African €20,900 in prize money, and the bonus of an appearance at the next event on the Challenge Tour Schedule, the Allianz Challenge de France.
Ferreira could also console himself with a free business class upgrade offered to him and his two compatriots, Bothma and Grace, by the tournament’s Official Airline, Kenya Airways.
He said: “A couple of dropped shots cost me today, but overall I have to be delighted with how I struck the ball this week, especially after starting with a 73. Branden gave me a good tip after that first round, and it really helped to turn my game around. It gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, and hopefully I can get back to how I was playing before I broke my ankle last year.”
Neither Bossert nor Grace were ultimately able to mount a concerted challenge, finishing five shots behind Bothma courtesy of respective rounds of 71 and 70.
They were joined in a share of third place on nine under par by England’s Sam Walker, who closed with a round of 66.