Tim Clark, who began the week by winning the pre-qualifying competition to earn a place in the field for the Bell’s South African Open, ended it even more impressively by claiming the title at The Country Club, Durban, with a closing 65 for a 19 under par total of 269.
Clark, 26, born and bred in Natal, received considerable vocal encouragement from his family and friends in his home town as he played some wonderfully controlled golf to edge out England’s Steve Webster by two strokes. Another Englishman, Jonathan Lomas, shared third place with South African James Kingston on 275.
For the second time in four months, Webster found a South African golfer too good for him as he shot a 64 for a 17 under par aggregate of 271. Last October, Retief Goosen beat the Midlander at the third hole of a sudden-death play-off to claim the Telefonica Open de Madrid.
On that occasion, Webster had chances to secure his maiden European Tour title, but this time around Clark did not give him that opportunity. The closest Webster came was within one shot of the third round leader after the 14th, but Clark responded with three birdies in four holes to ensure his name was etched on the magnificent trophy.
Clark, who becomes the first pre-qualifier to win on The European Tour since Paul Lawrie won the 128th Open Golf Championship in 1999, admitted he had been slightly disappointed not to receive an invitation straight into the championship. However he said: “I just wanted to come out and show I deserved a spot in the tournament. It was a motivation.”
Spurred on by his parents in the crowd, Clark birdied four of the first eight holes to stay ahead of the pack. It wasn’t until the last hole that he decided to sneak a quick glance at the leaderboards, by which time he was two clear and able to bogey the last and still win.
It has been a sweeter start to 2002 for Clark than it was last year, when he suffered a severe wrist injury on the US PGA Tour which required surgery and meant that the South African had to sit out the entire year as he waited for the problem to clear up.
Now he aims to return to America to play on a medical exemption, although he intends taking up some starts on The European Tour. He added: “This helps my confidence for the US PGA Tour. I am not sure about the wrist yet, but it seems fine at the moment.”
Webster, who has been runner-up four times in his professional career, had no complaints. He commented: “Every time I looked at the board, Tim had birdied again, so all credit to him. I thought 17 under par would be good enough and I fancied that total would win.
“However I do feel the first win is just around the corner. I always play well in South Africa and Houghton next week is one of my favourite courses. I am looking forward to the dunhill championship.”
Lomas, with four birdies and a bogey, claimed a share of third place with Kingston, the halfway leader. Meanwhile England’s Simon Dyson, Alastair Forsyth of Scotland, 2001 Volvo Order of Merit winner Retief Goosen and Welshman David Park finished tied for fifth.
Forsyth, playing on an invitation, it was a good week after he lost his card in 116th position last season, while Park was rewarded for some hard work over the winter by shooting a final round of 64 to finish on 276, 12 under par.