Mark Foster of England became the third consecutive first time winner on The European Tour after one of the most dramatic and exhilarating climaxes in Tour history. For only the second time, a six-man play-off was required to resolve the dunhill championship at Houghton Golf Club in Johannesburg, with Foster emerging victorious courtesy of a 40 foot eagle putt at the second extra hole.
All the ingredients necessary to create a great championship were there as, one by one, Foster, Anders Hansen, Trevor Immelman, Paul Lawrie, Doug McGuigan and Bradford Vaughan all found a route in the first six-man play-off since Stephen McAllister beat Richard Boxall, Stephen Hamill, Ronan Rafferty, Anders Sörensen and David Williams for the Vinho Verde Atlantic Open in Portugal in 1990.
The sextet all finished on 273, 15 under par, after a series of wonderful strokes and the odd mishap. So began the play-off in two three balls with Hansen, the Volvo PGA champion from Denmark, eliminated with a par five along with South African born Scot, McGuigan.
Foster could have won had he holed a 12 foot eagle putt on that occasion, as could Immelman, the South African who had won the previous week’s play-off for the South African Airways Open title in Cape Town.
However his chip from the drop zone behind the green stopped just short of the cup before Foster’s putt slid past. Now there was a fourball and it appeared that another hole might be required to determine the winner. Not so, as Foster lined up his 40 footer and watched the ball disappear below ground.
It meant that the Worksop golfer, a close friend of Lee Westwood, followed Fredrik Jacobson (Omega Hong Kong Open) and Immelman as first time winners on The European Tour International Schedule.
The new champion, who considered withdrawing early on Sunday morning with a stomach bug, said: "I hit a good putt first time around and told myself I had done everything I could. I was wilting a bit near the end but made sure I kept going at the second extra hole. People have said I’m a slow learner but I’ve finally caught the boat!"
Immelman commented: "The chip at the first extra hole was right on line but just an inch or two short. Well done to Mark Foster. What a great first win." Lawrie was also gracious in defeat, saying: "Only one person can win and Mark deserved it for his shot first time around. Every credit to him."
The excitement began to build shortly after defending champion Justin Rose had narrowly missed out on a play off, closing with a round of 65 for a 13 under par total of 275 and regretting missed birdie attempts at the last two holes.
Nevertheless, it was a stout defence of the title by the Englishman, as a Scotsman – Lawrie – was making his charge towards a second dunhill sponsored title following his victory in the 2001 dunhill links championship.
An eagle at the fifth and three birdies in the last four holes gave the 1999 Open Champion the necessary momentum to reach 15 under par, the first player of the sextet to reach that mark.
Next it was the turn of Immelman to try to emulate Nick Faldo by winning back to back play-offs following his maiden victory in Cape Town seven days earlier, when he birdied the 72nd hole then the first in the sudden-death against Tim Clark.
Immelman knocked a two iron 251 metres to eight feet and forced in the eagle putt to shoot a round of 67 and a total of 273. McGuigan double bogeyed the 17th after taking two in a bunker but birdied the last for 68. A third player on the same mark.
Foster, who birdied four successive holes from the sixth on his way to shooting a closing 68, had a ten footer to reach 16 under but his birdie effort stayed above ground. In the final group, Vaughan also failed with a birdie effort -–this time from six feet – while Hansen hit a towering three wood to 15 feet and made his eagle. Vaughan, the third round leader, was round in 71 to Hansen’s 69. Now there was a round half dozen on the same mark and one of the great play-offs in Tour history was about to commence.