Henrik Stenson (Getty Images)
Henrik Stenson ended a five year wait for a European Tour title by capturing the SA Open Championship at the Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate.
The Swede saw off a spirited charge from George Coetzee, who was bidding to secure a maiden win with his national title, to finish on 17 under par and triumph by three shots.
Stenson, who also secured his spot at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai by coming out on top, moved to the leaderboard’s summit after the second round and retained his three shot lead coming into today.
Yet it was far from straightforward for the 36 year old, particularly when he landed a tee shot into the water at the ninth to hand Coetzee a share of the lead.
However, Stenson made gains at the tenth, 16th and 17th to fend off his playing partner, who was unable to replicate the magic he produced when he recorded nine birdies and an eagle in his penultimate round of 63.
Stenson made the long trip to Africa from his home in the United States knowing he needed a good performance to remain in the top 60 in The Race to Dubai standings for next week’s lucrative showpiece.
He was ranked 59th and that pressure clearly inspired the Swede as he finally ended a barren spell without a tournament victory.
“I've had to fight hard the last few years on the golf course and I'm very pleased to pick up this win,” he said.
“When it takes that long between wins you wonder if there will be another. You've just got to fight hard and put the work in. In this game you need to put a lot of effort in to get something back. I'm very relieved to have won this one.”
The Swede got just that and paid tribute to his playing partner Coetzee - who continued to play the role of always the bridesmaid, never the bride, with his eighth top ten finish of the season.
"I played aggressively coming in and made the birdies, and luckily George didn't,” Stenson added. “But George played well and will get that win sooner or later.”
The champion also reserved praise for his temporary caddy this week Solomon Soli on a course which continued to perplex players with its difficult to read greens.
“He was very solid,” added Stenson. “Solid Soli!”
Hennie Otto, who Stenson succeeds as the tournament’s victor, fired a course record 62 in the morning to better Coetzee’s round from yesterday and show the late starters that low scores were possible in the swirling wind.
That was further highlighted by 2011 Masters Tournament champion Charl Schwartzel’s front nine 32 with Stenson et al no doubt looking over their shoulder at the former green jacket winner.
Ryder Cup hero Martin Kaymer was also trying to make a late charge akin to Europe’s last day surge at the Medinah Country Club in late September, which set up the German’s historic moment.
Coetzee was the first to apply real pressure, though, when his eagle putt off the front of the third green ran up the hill and into the hole.
However, Stenson managed birdie and back-to-back bogeys followed for his nearest pursuer.
The landscape shifted totally when the leader pushed his tee shot into a watery grave on the ninth and there was nothing to separate the two until the 15th as Coetzee dropped a shot he would ultimately not recover.
Stenson finished with a flourish, recording a birdie on the 17th after finding a favourable lie in a greenside bunker, to seal the deal.
The day’s other big winner was Tommy Fleetwood as the Englishman booked his place on The 2013 European Tour International Schedule for next season.
Fleetwood came to the Rainbow Nation in 124th place in the rankings and required a leap of five places to retain his card.
The final day’s play in South Africa began after the culmination of the UBS Hong Kong Open so the 21 year old, 13th overnight, knew he had to remain inside the top 27 to return to the Tour next term.
He did so with ease, belying his tender years to produce a performance of real maturity as he signed for a three under 69, which left him tied sixth for the event.
“It feels better than a win pretty much,” Fleetwood admitted.
“I'm absolutely made up, honestly. It's unbelievable.”
Of those in danger of dropping out of the 119, Gareth Maybin, Maarten Lafeber and Craig Lee all did enough to remain inside of the cut off point. However, Estanislao Goya, James Kingston and Scot Lloyd Saltman, who found himself in the upper reaches of the leaderboard at one point yesterday, missed out.