You couldn’t really blame Pretoria amateur Eric Nel for feeling a little shell-shocked after he sealed a maiden IGT Tour victory in the CMR Challenge on Thursday. After all, who wins his first title on a pro Tour with a three bogey finish in the final round?
‘It was really a very weird feeling when I walked off the course,’ said the stunned, yet elated 18-year-old player from Centurion.
‘I was super excited on the one hand and completely baffled on the other. I was five under with three to play, but after the bogey at 17 I felt like I was fighting for survival.
“Then I dropped 18, as well and I still won by two shots. Like I said, I really weird day.’
Nel opened with a 67 to lead the first round, but lost the advantage to Justin Turner after carding a 70 in round two. He began the final 18 one off the pace in a tie for second with Spacey.
‘Matt shot 67 in the second round and he started with a birdie against a bogey from Justin and par from me, so I definitely considered him a threat,’ Nel said.
‘Then he had back-to-back bogeys and I told myself to stop worrying about what he is doing and to focus on getting my own game going. I birdied five, seven and nine to turn in 10 under.’
Turner had further bogeys at four and eight, but got one shot back with a birdie at five. He turned six under, while Spacey followed his shaky start with pars to the turn. The Sunshine Tour pro had another brace of bogeys at 11 and 12.
Nel birdied 12, made a solid par at 13 and holed out for birdie at the short hole to go 12 under.
‘We all parred 15 but then things went pear-shaped.,’ Nel said. “I had a six shot lead on Justin and eight shots on Matthew, so I decided to for the shot. My drive finished below a tree and I didn’t have a full shot, so I had to punch out and I flew the green. I putted from just off the green and made the second putt for bogey. At 17, I hit it over the green and three-putted.
Nel had a four shot lead on Turner, while Spacey lagged five behind after a birdie at 16 playing the final hole.
‘I was really calm at that stage because I knew I had four shots in hand,’ the GFG Academy player said. ‘Matthew went straight down the middle but Justin and I both hit our drives out of bounds on the right. I hit my third shot into the bunker, splashed out and holed the putt for bogey.’
‘Justin made six, but Matthew ended up making eagle, so that cushion really helped. I didn’t feel under pressure at all. I played a couple of IGT Tour events in the last two years, but this year I’ve played every tournament and I’ve definitely learned to compete.
‘It’s pretty awesome that I beat my buddy Ross (Sinclair) to the winner’s circle. Ross outperformed me on the amateur circuit, so it’s a nice feeling to get one over on him for a change.’
Spacey’s eagle at 18 for a 72 handed the Dainfern golfer sole second on 209, while England’s David Ashley closed with a 70 to finish a further stroke adrift. Turner’s 75 netter the Western Province golfer a share of fourth on 211 with Clinton Grobbler (69) and Damian Naicker (73).
All competitors RSA unless otherwise specified and amateurs are indicated as AMA:
207 – Eric Nel AMA 67 70 70
209 – Matthew Spacey 70 67 72
210 – David Ashley (ENG) 71 69 70
211 – Clinton Grobler 71 71 69, Damian Naicker 69 69 73, Justin Turner 72 64 75
212 – Adriel Poonan AMA 74 69 69, Calvin Caldeira 74 68 70, Johary Raveloarison (MDG) 69 71 72, Stephan Erasmus AMA 70 68 74
213 – Coert Groenewald 72 73 68
By Lali Stander