Damian Naicker kept his cool to conjure up a tournament-winning approach to the final green at Wingate Park Country Club on Wednesday to set up his third IGT Tour victory this season.
Naicker began the final round of the Race to Q-School #7 three off the pace from 36-hole leader Coert Groenewald and one shot behind Sunshine Tour campaigner CJ du Plessis.
The 27-year-old Modderfontein golfer took the outright lead at 10 under with successive birdies at 14 and 15, but spoiled his flawless run with a bogey at the penultimate hole.
Unable to take advantage of the par-five 18th, Naicker closed with a three-under-par 69 and set the clubhouse target at nine under 207. When Du Plessis signed for a 70, the GFG Academy duo headed back to the 18th for a sudden-death playoff.
When Du Plessis pushed his tee shot right, Naicker realised that two good shots could seal the victory for him.
‘CJ couldn’t go for the green from the position where he landed and I knew if I could reach the green in two, I would have a chance,’ Naicker stated.
‘I hit a magnificent drive straight down the middle and my seven-iron approach from 174 metres found the target. I had a 12-foot putt left, so I just lagged it close and tapped in for a birdie and the win.
‘I was relieved to get it done. I was really unhappy with my game last week and I withdrew from this week, but my coach [Graeme Francis] convinced me to play. I came into this week with a B game and no expectations, so it’s comforting to know that I can win with a B game.
‘I really had to scramble at times this week, but the final round was much better. I kept a bogey-free card almost all the way until the 17th. I hit a seven-iron, but I caught a flier. I finished in a bad lie in the rough, but got the ball on the green and then the par putt just hung on the lip. I thought I had thrown it away, but at least I was able to make amends in the playoff.’
The victory moved the Race to Q-School Order of Merit leader almost 13,000 points clear of second-placed Dean O’Riley, but Naicker said he is not hung up on the statistics.
‘Yes, it’s nice to be leading the Order of Merit,’ he said. ‘If I can maintain a top-five ranking until the end of the Race series, I’ll be straight through to the final stage of the Sunshine Tour’s Q-School.
‘But for me, the goals in the Race to Q-School series have been exactly the same as it was since the start of the season. I’m trying to put myself in contention every week and I’m trying to get a top-10 finish every week. You need to shoot sub-par rounds consistently; that’s the only kind of form that will get you through Q-School and through the first season on tour.’
By Lali Stander
All competitors RSA unless otherwise specified and amateurs are indicated as AMA:
207 – Damian Naicker 66 72 69 (1st playoff hole)
207 – CJ du Plessis 68 69 70
208 – Matthew Spacey 70 69 69, Terence Boardman 69 68 71
209 – Jaco Prinsloo 72 69 68, Stuart Smith (BOT) 70 68 71