Richard Sterne edged out Gareth Maybin on the first extra play-off hole to become the eighth consecutive home winner of the South African Open Championship after both players finished their 72 holes tied at 274 at Pearl Valley Golf Estates.
The home favourite, who won the Alfred Dunhill Championship seven days ago, shot a final round 66 to move into contention after overnight leader Lee Westwood wilted through his final 18 holes and eventually ended a shot off the pace at 13 under for the tournament.
Sterne`s third shot at the par five 18th in the play-off went to within a few feet to put pressure on his Northern Irish rival who could not sink his birdie putt.
Maybin had an excellent chance to take the title on the final hole of normal play when he missed an eight foot putt to end his round with a 70.
That score was matched by his fellow countryman Rory McIlroy as he ended the tournament in joint third, with a total of 275, alongside Westwood and four time winner Ernie Els after he put in a scintillating final round 64 to surge into contention.
Four players finished on 12 under, including English pair Richard Finch and Chris Wood as well as South Africans Branden Grace and Retief Goosen.
Speaking afterward Sterne, the 2008 local Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner, said that he was just pleased to have his name written amongst the other former winners of the world’s second oldest Open Championship.
“This tournament is so prestigious and the names on the trophy are just unbelievable,” he said. “To be on there has always been a dream and a goal to be honest. I may need to set a few new goals after this one, I don’t think I can top next year’s Sunshine Tour Order of Merit with the same things I’ve done this year.”
The 27 year old, who was also the benefactor of a final round slip-up from the leaders at the Leopard Creek Golf Club, was handed two more lifelines when Maybin missed his putt on the final hole, before he pulled his first shot into the bunker at the play-off hole.
It meant he had to chip out first before taking aim at the green and that left him finishing in five in contrast to Sterne’s four.
“It’s a tough situation, you want the guy to make the putt, but you also don’t want him to make,” he continued. “I was just happy with whatever happened there. Obviously him missing gave me a chance to win and you don’t get many opportunities in this game and you’ve got to take the ones you do. So I was very fortunate to win.
“I made a good save on the first hole from around 15 feet for par and I think that’s what kept me in the tournament. That was just a massive putt right there. I was quite surprised to see that no one was running away with it.
“Obviously Ernie made a big move, but going into my back nine I just said that if could just get to 14 or 15 under, you never know what can happen coming down the stretch,” added Sterne, who in the process secured a fifth European Tour title.
Reflecting on his initial putt at the 18th, Maybin said: “I just couldn’t keep it straight to be honest. I had a reasonable putt, but just lagged it a little bit.
“Obviously I just came up a little short, but all in all, I’m very happy with myself and the way I held up.”
While Westwood faded wtih a final round of 73, Els raced through the field with a 64 to make it a three way tie for third place with teenager Rory McIlroy. The young Northern Irishman was walking a fine line in his attempt to qualify for the Masters Tournament in April. At the start of the week he was in a precarious 50th place in the Official World Golf Ranking and with the top 50 qualifying for Augusta, McIlroy needed something special. He produced the goods and in the process climbed to 39th in the World.
"It's been an absolutely great year and to get to play in Augusta in my second season, making the Top 50 in the world and staying there, I had to go out this week and I played pretty well and I did that. I'm over the moon. It's obviously a great way to end the year and looking forward to all of the things that are coming my way next year."