Damian Naicker served up a feast of birdies at Waterkloof Golf Club to secure his second IGT Tour title this season at the Race to Q-School #2 on Wednesday.
Naicker began the final round three strokes behind rookie Kyle Barker and dropped further back when he stumbled out of the blocks with a bogey start.
The 27-year-old Modderfontein golfer responded to the early blip with a birdie at the second and systematically began to hunt down Barker with further gains at six, nine, 10, 12 and 14. Going down the stretch, Naicker kicked it into high gear and fired a trio of birdies over the closing holes for a blistering eight-under-par 64 and a winning total of 16-under-par 200.
Gauteng amateur David McIntyre was equally impressive with a flawless 65 and finished four shots back in sole second, while Barker shared third with Ekurhuleni amateur Kyle McClatchie after the duo posted rounds of 72 and 69 respectively.
Naicker has notched a handful of top 10 finishes since his breakthrough victory on the country’s premier development Tour at Zwartkops Match Play in June. He was pleased as punch to follow a tie for sixth in last week’s first Race to Q-School event with another visit to the winner’s circle.
‘To be honest, this one really means a lot to me,’ said Naicker.
‘I had a great match play record as an amateur and it’s a format I’ve always excelled at, but after the win at Zwartkops I had a bunch of close calls, and the doubts started setting in. You wonder if you have what it takes to win a stroke play event, so to close this out is huge for me.
‘I definitely have to credit my fitness coach Ian Corbett and Graeme Francis and Andre Louw from the GFG Academy for all the work they’ve been doing with me off the course this season. I don’t think I’ve ever been fitter or mentally stronger since I turned pro in 2011.
‘I also owe a great debt of gratitude to Cois and Lokkie du Plooy for running the IGT Tour and giving us a chance to rub shoulders with Sunshine Tour pros. I’ve played against guys like Ockie Strydom, Danie van Tonder, Tyrone Ferreira and Jacques Kruyswijk this season and every time you tee it up with those guys, you take your game up another level.’
Naicker said the bogey start was unexpected, but it didn’t throw him off his game.
‘One thing that I’ve learned this season from playing with the Sunshine Tour pros is that they walk off the bogeys, because there are still holes out there to play,’ he said.
‘I just thought about the 17 holes to go and I was really calm and steady. I expected Kyle to birdie the par five, but he made a par and it definitely helped me, because the birdie at two got me back to level for the round and after that I just stuck to my game plan.
‘When I first started competing on the IGT Tour I tried to beat guys like Ockie or Danie, instead of beating the course. Now I just try to hit fairways and greens and I play for pars. Playing that way takes the pressure off because you don’t have high expectations. If you keep it in play, opportunities roll around and today I got quite a few chances to knock in some birdie putts.’
Naicker intends to play the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School in March next year and says the Race to Q-School Series is vital to his preparation.
‘It’s great when you win, because you win your entry into your next event,’ he said. ‘If you finish in the top five at the end of the series, the IGT Tour refunds your Q-School entry fee and you’re straight into final stage. Having incentives like that is great, because it pushes you to take your game to the next level. ‘There are still 16 events and I hope to lift a few more trophies before March.’
First round leader Carrie Park returned a final round 68 to grab a share of fifth with last week’s champion Dean O’Riley and Altaaf Bux, while LPGA Tour campaigner Bertine Strauss produced a five under 67 to close out the top 10 alongside amateurs Stephan Erasmus and Matt Saulez.
By Lali Stander
All competitors RSA unless otherwise specified and amateurs are indicated as AMA:
200 – Damian Naicker 71 65 64
204 – David McIntyre AMA 76 63 65
205 – Kyle McClatchie AMA 69 67 69, Kyle Barker 67 66 72
206 – Carrie Park 65 73 68, Dean O’Riley 71 67 68, Altaaf Bux 69 68 69