Martin Kaymer, in a wonderful advertisement for his composure under pressure, won the Nedbank Golf Challenge by two strokes at the Gary Player Country Club on Sunday.
Kaymer shot a three-under-par 69 to claim the title, beating South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel into second place, but his performance was far from error-free. But the way the German recovered from mistakes was magnificent as he finished on eight-under-par for the tournament.
He was level with Schwartzel as he reached the turn, reeling off three successive birdies to hold off the former Masters champion, who birdied the ninth and 10th holes. Kaymer was still under pressure, however, with Bill Haas, Louis Oosthuizen and Lee Westwood also in the mix and he needed great skill and mental strength to get out of trouble on three occasions on the back nine.
On the par-three 12th hole, Kaymer’s tee shot found a greenside bunker and he then chipped the ball 12 feet past the hole, but still made the putt for par.
Two holes later, the former world number one produced the greatest of escapes as his drive was nearer to Rustenburg than the fairway. Fortunately, the ball landed in a clearing in the thick Pilanesberg bush and he was able to hit his second back out, over the trees and on to the fairway. A superb third shot sailed to within 10 feet of the hole, setting up an unlikely birdie on the par-five 14th.
A bogey on the 15th, after his approach went over the green and he left his chip 10 feet short, cut Kaymer’s lead back to one stroke over Schwartzel and a dramatic South African victory looked back on the cards as the leader left himself with an 18-foot putt for par on the par-three 16th. But the 27-year-old Ryder Cup hero sank the clutch putt and from that moment there was little doubt Kaymer would be the victor.
Schwartzel, playing in the two-ball ahead of Kaymer, then bogeyed the 17th after leaving his approach shot short and then duffing the chip.
Schwartzel finished alone in second place as he ultimately matched Kaymer’s 69, having started the final round two shots back. The 28-year-old was in fine form on the final day, reeling off four birdies in the first 14 holes, before his one and only bogey on the penultimate hole.
The putter was the one club in Schwartzel’s bag that was not firing, however, as he left a few putts within inches of the cup.
Oosthuizen, who started the day one shot behind Kaymer, was left with a mountain to climb after he bogeyed the seventh and eighth holes after over-hitting chip shots. The South African was expelled from the running after he found the greenside bunker on the par-three 12th hole, another bogey leaving him five strokes behind.
Defending champion Lee Westwood’s bid for an unprecedented hat-trick of titles never really took off, and his stillborn challenge died on the 14th hole when he found the thick rough to the left of the green, took two attempts to get out and ended with a double-bogey seven.
Debutant Haas pipped both Oosthuizen and Westwood into third as he compiled a solid 71 in the final round, finishing five strokes behind Kaymer on three-under-par overall.
Kaymer said he was delighted his hard work this year had finally given birth to a victory.
“I’m very happy that I’ve finally won this year. I’ve been practising hard and playing well, but it just didn’t happen for me before today. I said to my caddie, Craig Connelly, that we have to win once a year at least.
“My tee shot on 14 was the biggest piece of luck, I was very lucky to find the ball and then it was in a perfect position just to chip out on to the fairway, which led to birdie,” Kaymer said.
The final round at Sun City was played in unusually wet weather, with steady showers through most of the day, but Kaymer said this gave rise to easier conditions.
“Today was the easiest of the four rounds, there wasn’t much wind, it was fairly calm and easier to hit the fairways. It was easy to be aggressive, you could hit mid-irons and the greens were holding, they stopped very quickly,” Kaymer said.