A third visit to the water on the 18th hole in the playoff was not redeemable for Jaco van Zyl as Jaco Ahlers clinched the Chase to the Investec Cup final and won the lucrative R3.5 million bonus pool for the overall standings leader as well.
Van Zyl and Ahlers both shot brilliant 66s on the final day to finish on nine-under-par, one stroke ahead of Justin Harding and overnight leader George Coetzee, and had to go down the 18th three more times in the playoff before Ahlers sank a six-foot putt for par to take the biggest win of his career.
On the second playoff hole, Van Zyl staged a remarkable recovery to make par after his drive went in the water and his third shot, after dropping, found the hazard in front of the green. But an excellent chip enabled him to save par, which Ahlers could not beat as he sent his drive way left into a waste bunker and he had to lay up.
But Van Zyl astonishingly sent his third playoff drive into the same watery grave and this time his third also landed up in the water in front of the green.
Ahlers had also found the water off the tee but, hitting his third after Van Zyl’s errant approach, he took the conservative route and laid up in front of the green, before chipping on and leaving himself with a testing little six-footer for the win.
The R3.5 million bonus pool prize, plus R163 400 for winning the final, is by far the biggest paycheque ever for Ahlers, but the 32-year-old who plays out of Koro Creek Golf Estate, said he was more motivated for his third Sunshine Tour title than for the money.
“It’s amazing to win but I really haven’t had much time to think about it. I just wanted to win, I wasn’t thinking about the money, but we have just bought a house so it will come in handy,” Ahlers, a father of two, said.
It’s been a life-changing four months for Ahlers as his victory in the Cape Town Open in November earned him a place in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, where he finished in a tie for 21st and took home R1.3 million. That win in the Mother City also came in a playoff.
“I was pretty calm today. Four months ago I won a four-hole playoff to win the Cape Town Open and my first win in 2009 also came in a playoff, so that gave me confidence,” Ahlers said.
The soon-to-be George resident started the day four strokes behind Coetzee, but cashed in on a hot putter, with birdies on the third, fifth and seventh holes, as well as chipping in for eagle from the bunker on the par-five fourth.
Coetzee, meanwhile, was having an average day, having dropped a shot on the par-three fourth when he found the bunker, but birdies on the two par-fives on the front nine (4th & 7th) and another on the par-four 14th meant he was still hanging on to a share of the lead as he reached the penultimate hole.
But his drive on the tricky 450-metre par-four 17th, the toughest hole on the final day, was awful, so far left that it appeared to be heading into the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
Coetzee miraculously found his ball in the thick bushveld, but it was totally unplayable, so he had to reload and play three off the tee, leading to a double-bogey.
The 28-year-old did make a remarkable birdie on the last, after hitting a wood out of the waste bunker just too far and running out of green, into the water behind, but it was not enough to keep his title hopes alive.
Van Zyl, meanwhile, birdied four of the last five holes to post nine-under as the clubhouse lead and, once Ahlers found the bunker off the tee on 17 to drop a shot and then could only par 18 after his approach went into the bunker behind the green, it was all about the two Jacos as they went into the playoff.
It was not all smooth sailing for Ahlers, but he made the clutch putts that mattered.
*In the Investec Cup for Ladies, Lee-Anne Pace continued her all-conquering run through the series, winning the final by eight strokes.