The feared lightning did not strike Durban Country Club on the final day of the 2005 South African Airways Open but it did, metaphorically, for Tim Clark, who repeated his win in the event the last time it was played in Durban in 2002 with a superbly controlled final day performance.
The diminutive South African started the day as part of a four way tie with fellow countrymen Hendrik Buhrmann, Titch Moore and Tjaart van der Walt, but as that trio fell back with respective over par rounds, Clark motored off in the opposite direction.
On Saturday night, the 2002 champion said he reckoned if he carded a final round somewhere between four and seven under par he would win and his clairvoyant skills proved to be as impressive as his golf, when a flawless closing six under par 66 for a 15 under par total of 273 saw him win by six shots from Frenchman Gregory Havret and fellow South African Charl Schwartzel.
Havret, the 2001 Italian Open champion, produced another consistent performance, closing with a final round 69 for 279 while Schwartzel finished the week as he started with a 68. But although they battled hard, as did the whole of the chasing pack, they were always chasing second place as Clark proved the star of the show.
Birdies at the third and fifth earmarked him as the man to beat but that task proved impossible for the rest of the field when he rattled in further birdies on the inward half at the tenth, 14th, 17th and 18th.
“I’m extremely pleased because I felt a lot of pressure to play well this week,” said Clark. “I think a lot of people expected me to play well but I hadn’t played much golf coming into the week. However my game just felt like it was getting better and better and today was the best I had played all week.
“I had two good sand saves for par on the back nine which helped but other than that I wasn’t in too much trouble and I felt even a few more putts could have gone in. But to finish strongly like that on the back nine was pretty rewarding.
“It means a great deal to win our national Open and again to win here are Durban Country Club. I think my next goal must be to win it somewhere else! I think it is one of South Africa’s great courses, it really does challenge the players and to win round here I know I have played good golf.”
Sharing second place both Havret and Schwartzel were delighted for different reasons, Havret because it continued a fine run of form in the 2005 season and Schwartzel because he moved back to the top of the European Tour Order of Merit with €192,949 (£135,265) following his win in the dunhill championship last month
Havret started the day three shots off the lead and he was moving in the right direction with a flawless outward half of 33 which featured birdies at the third, seventh and eighth.
But any realistic hopes of overhauling Clark ended as he turned for home when errant approach shots saw him miss the green at both the tenth and 11th holes to run up bogeys at both. Undeterred, he regrouped and birdied the 14th before ending in style with a 12 foot putt for a closing birdie on the 18th.
“I played well but there was just too much catching up to do for me,” he said. “But I felt great out there today and played well, the only thing I was disappointed about was at the tenth and 11th.
“Those were two big mistakes to make at that time in the tournament and if I hadn’t done that, then who knows. But I am pretty happy, I was pretty consistent throughout the week and gives me a bit of confidence for the season now which has really started up again this week.
“I finished 11th in China and 12th in Hong Kong but then of course we had the break for Christmas and New Year so it is nice to see that I haven’t lost any of my momentum.”
Momentum, of course, is something that Schwartzel has in abundance, having won on his last European Tour outing in the dunhill championship at Leopard Creek Golf Club and as well as moving back to the top of The European Tour Order of Merit, he also gave himself an unassailable lead in the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit in this, the joint-sanctioned tournament.
Flawless to the turn in 34, the 20 year old had four birdies and two bogeys on the way home in 34 too. “After the break I didn’t expect to play this week but after the second round I felt like I was getting a bit more feel in my swing and started playing well,” he said.
“I’d have liked to have been a couple of shots closer and I thought if I could get to 11 under par then I might have a big chance. I didn’t quite get there but I was happy with my effort overall.”
Four players shared fourth place on eight under par 280, a resurgent Darren Clarke, Nick Dougherty, whose 66 alongside champion Clark’s was the best score of the final round, James Kingston and Graeme Storm.