Tommy Fleetwood was well-served by his short game as he clinched a thrilling 40th Nedbank Golf Challenge on the final hole on Sunday, the seventh time the tournament has been won by the defending champion.
Fleetwood came from three shots behind in the final round, shooting a superb five-under-par 67 on Sunday to finish on 11-under-par. The Englishman won the previous Nedbank Golf Challenge in 2019 with a score of 12-under-par 276, and so joined Seve Ballesteros (1983/84), David Frost (1989/90), Nick Price (1997/98), Ernie Els (1999/2000), Jim Furyk (2005/06) and Lee Westwood (2010/11) as back-to-back winners.
A brilliant 50-foot putt to within inches of the 18th hole earned Fleetwood his par, and victory, with Ryan Fox unable to get up-and-down from short of the bunker in front of the green, his bogey leaving him on 10-under-par.
Shubhankar Sharma bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes to finish on nine-under.
Fleetwood started hot with three birdies in his first six holes, his 20-foot putt on the sixth bringing him just one stroke off the lead as overnight leaders Rasmus Hojgaard (76) and Thomas Detry (77) were overcome by the pressure and the ruthless nature of the Gary Player Country Club when mistakes are made.
Play was brought to a halt though by lightning when Fleetwood, Fox and Shubhankar were on the eighth hole, but Fleetwood, the highest-ranked golfer in the field at No.25, was not fazed by the near three-and-a-half hour delay.
Fleetwood birdied the par-five ninth hole, as did Fox and Shubhankar. The New Zealander and the Indian were now the co-leaders, but Fox, who had started his round with six straight pars, then reeled off four birdies in a row, joining them on 10-under with his four at the par-five 10th hole.
Fleetwood let good chances for birdie slip by on the 10th and 11th holes, and then narrowly failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker on the 12th.
He found himself in the sand again on the 14th, but chipped in for eagle to go to 11-under-par, catching up with Shubhankar and Fox, who made birdies.
Not relinquish his position
But the 31-year-old was inspired by the shot and would not relinquish his position. His short game came to the fore on the last two holes as a brilliant chip from off the green on the 17th left him with a tap-in for par, and then came his wonderfully-judged long putt on the final hole.
Shubhankar, the 2017 Joburg Open champion, short-sided himself in the bunker on the par-three 16th and missed his eight-foot putt for par, and then found the fairway bunker on 17. He laid up and produced an excellent third shot but then missed his four-foot putt for par, to ruin his chances of a second title on South African soil.
Fox’s tenacity all through the tournament was remarkable, overcoming his wonky Driver with a brilliant short game. But his crucial chip shot on 18 was initially disturbed by a moronic heckler in the crowd, and he then ran the ball on to the fringe of the green and could not make the putt.
Fleetwood has not won since his 2019 triumph at Sun City, and his emotions flowed on the 18th green as the tears came.