Martin holds his nerve for victory

12/12/2010 2:40:29 PM
 Pablo Martin   (Getty Images)
Pablo Martin (Getty Images)

Pablo Martin overcame a back-nine blip to successfully defend his Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek Country Club.

Having gone five shots clear at the start of the back nine, the Spaniard saw his lead reduced to one after a triple bogey at the 17th.

But he held his nerve for a birdie at the last for a third European Tour title.

Martin's closing two under par 70 gave him an 11 under total and two shot victory over South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Anthony Michael and Danish Challenge Tour graduate Thorbjorn Olesen.

It was 25 year old rookie Michael who started the day top of the leaderboard, but when Martin almost holed his approach to the first and tapped in for birdie then sunk a ten foot eagle putt at the second it was all change.

Michael made his own birdie at the first, but parred the next and took two shots to get out of a greenside bunker on the third and bogeyed.

Martin holed eight foot putts for birdie on the seventh and ninth to turn in 30, although Michael had a birdie of his own on the eighth to maintain the pressure.

But the former professional baseball hopeful Michael snap-hooked his drive way left on the 11th and double bogeyed, leaving Martin five in front with seven to play.

It appeared all over at that point, but nerves crept into 24 year old Martin's game and he was lucky to escape from the par five 13th with par after a wretched approach left him perched on a wall to play his third shot out the bunker.

He dropped a shot at the 14th after hitting a three wood into the trees, before a penultimate hole he later described as "a big mess".

Having driven into sand, he then found his ball plugged in long grass, and despite a free drop needed four shots to find the green and three putts for a seven.

However, he banished any negative thought to nail a perfect drive down the middle of the 18th fairway and displayed nerves of steel to land a five wood in the heart of the water-surrounded green.

Michael then attempted to follow his playing partner, but his ball splashed in the drink - although he commendably salvaged par.

"I played really well on the front nine," said Martin. "I didn't get in too much trouble and I holed a couple of good putts.

"I got really lucky on 13, I've not been swinging that great the whole week. It's winner's luck I guess.

"Luckily I was able to hit some good shots coming in, especially on 18. I've been playing decent lately and I wanted to try my best and do as good as I can."

Martin claims €158,500 and for the second year running becomes the first leader of this season's Race to Dubai.

He is the first player to successfully defend a European Tour title since Padraig Harrington won the 2008 Open Championship, and also received a drenching from a bucket of water tipped over him by fellow Spaniards Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Alvaro Velasco.

“Normally, they throw people into ponds and stuff,” he said, “but I’m glad they restrained themselves today, because there are crocodiles and stuff around here.”

Olesen began his maiden European Tour campaign with a best-of-the-day 66, while Schwartzel finishes runner-up for the fourth time in the event he won in 2004 after a 70.