Andy Sullivan is the sole master of golf in Johannesburg after the Englishman added the Joburg Open title on Sunday to his victory seven weeks ago in the South African Open at Glendower.
In a thrilling final day at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington, Sullivan fired a brilliant six-under-par 66 on the testing East Course to finish on 17-under-par, two strokes ahead of fellow Englishmen Anthony Wall and David Howell, Ireland’s Kevin Phelan and South Africans Wallie Coetsee and Jaco van Zyl.
A playoff looked the most likely conclusion to the day as a handful of golfers jockeyed for the lead, which changed hands several times on the final day, but it was Sullivan who ended alone on top, a comfortable winner having made the putts that mattered most. Overnight leader Coetsee was two shots ahead at the start of the final round, but Sunday was just not his day as he posted a one-under-par 71 and had to settle for one of the bridesmaid’s positions on 15-under.
Phelan and Van Zyl both matched Sullivan’s 66, but the Irishman could only collect two birdies on the back nine after going out in a superb 32. Van Zyl came agonisingly close to eagle on the 18th hole, but his birdie left him with a blemish-free round and an outstanding return to top form after double knee surgery last year.
Wall claimed a share of the lead with back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14, but made crucial lapses on the 15th and 18th holes.
On 15 his approach slid off the green into the reeds surrounding the dam in front of the putting surface, leading to a bogey, while his drive on the final hole went under the trees on the left, forcing him to settle for par when he really needed at least a birdie to put pressure on Sullivan.
Howell also made two crucial errors in the closing holes, driving into the water on 14 which led to bogey, and then missing a vital five-foot birdie putt on 15. The former Ryder Cup player and top-10 golfer parred his way in for a 69, failing to add to his four birdies on the front nine.
Sullivan smiled his way through the tense closing stages of the co-sanctioned European Tour/Sunshine Tour event and he believes one of the main reasons for his dramatic rise up the world rankings has been the perspective given to him by his daughter’s birth 18 months ago.
“It’s been a long, hard slog for me and it took me a long time to realise that the best way to play golf is to enjoy it. My little girl Ruby put that into perspective for me, when I see my daughter’s little face at the end of the day, golf doesn’t matter so much. She doesn’t know whether you’ve played good or bad golf.
“I felt really good down the stretch at Glendower and even better today. There wasn’t any pressure, I was very relaxed and it was just me and ‘Macca’ [caddy Sean McDonagh] having a laugh, a Saturday afternoon stroll on the golf course,” the 28-year-old Sullivan said.
Sullivan began the day three shots off the pace and, after the disappointment of only making par on the par-five first hole – eight of the top-10 made birdie or better there on Sunday – he was able to make birdie on the daunting, long par-three second after a superb tee-shot.
He added further birdies to his cart on the fourth and sixth holes, and then snatched the lead with successive birdies as he reached the turn.
But an approach shot into the water on the signature 11th hole threatened to bring him to his knees, except Sullivan kept his cool and nailed a 25-foot putt that limited the damage to just one dropped shot.
Sullivan picked up just two more birdies after that, on the 15th and 18th holes, but the size of the task proved too much for all his challengers.
The birdie on 18 was accompanied by a sigh of relief because Sullivan left his eagle putt eight feet short of the hole, leaving him with a crucial tester.
“I knew if I got a birdie on the last I’d have a really good chance of winning, but I left myself with a bit more than I would have liked,” he admitted.
Although the man from the English midlands strikes a happy-go-lucky demeanour on the course, he never does anything silly and solid, tee-to-green golf and making the putts that mattered is what earned him his second European Tour title.
“I don’t know what it is about playing in Johannesburg, but I just feel really relaxed here. I wish I could play here every week. Maybe it’s because the wine is unbelievably cheap here, which is great,” Sullivan joked.
Being in contention is what Sullivan thrives on and he said he would love to “bottle the unbelievable emotions every time I’m in contention”.
The man from the English midlands also grabbed one of the three places on offer for the Open Championship in July at the Old Course at St Andrew’s, the home of golf.
The other two spots went to Wall and Howell, on the basis of the tie-breaker that relied on the highest-ranked golfers on the world rankings that finished in the top three at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington.