On a day of almost unprecedented high drama on the European Tour, South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen experienced both the highs and lows of golf at the Royal Maxx Montgomerie course in Turkey.
After a brilliant drive on the testing par-five closing hole, a superb 4-iron approach and a 20-foot putt from the fringe of the green, a sensational eagled netted the South African a spot in the six-man play-off for the title in the $7-million Turkish Airlines Open.
Van Rooyen closed with a seven-under-par to join England’s Tyrrell Hatton, American Kurt Kitayama, Austria’s Matthias Schwab and French pair Benjamin Herbert and Victor Perez on 20-under-par 268 for the four rounds of regulation play.
But his sweet-swinging drive deserted him on the first extra hole.
Going down the 18th hole again, the 29-year-old hooked his drive into the bushes left of the fairway on his way to a bogey six. His hopes were dashed with a bogey, as were both Frenchman, who made par.
Hatton keeping his hopes alive with a chip-in for four on the first play-off hole and Schwab, who also found the bush off the tee, made a fantastic up-and-down for birdie to join Hatton and Kitayama on the 18th tee again.
This time Kitayama had a chance to win it, but missed from eight feet. On the third trip, Hatton and Schwab both birdied and handed Kitayama his walking papers.
On the fourth trip down the 18th under the floodlights, the glory was Hatton’s after Schwab missed a four-foot par putt on the high side.
Van Rooyen, who watched the play-off unfold, was philosophical about his loss.
‘I’m not mad at myself,’ Van Rooyen.
‘It was just a poor tee-shot, and came at the worst possible time. I was warming up on the driving range and hitting it beautifully, but I pulled it into the bush in the play-off. I was feeling fine; feeling confident and I hit the ball and looked up and it was going left. I made a great eagle on 18 to get myself in that play-off and I’ll rather look at it that way.
‘It was a really good week and I’ll take a lot of positives to the Nedbank Golf Challenge. There is a lot to a play-off, not just this trophy. All sportsmen we play to win, so finishing second is a bitter pill. This year I had my fair share of runner-up finishes, so I choose to look forward.
‘You have to look at the bigger picture. I’ll pick up some valuable Race to Dubai and World Golf Ranking points this week and with two events left in the season that counts. The main aim now is the Majors and this takes me a little closer to the magic number.’
The 2019 Scandinavian Invitation champion Van Rooyen actually put some remarkable numbers on the scoreboard. His rounds improved each day, from 70 to 67 to 66 and 65 and in a stretch of 13 holes – the last six holes of round three and the first seven holes of round four – he made 10 birdies, two pars and a solitary par.
‘I was really pleased with that start, because I knew the guys were going to be making birdies,’ he said. ‘I hit a bit of a slump down the back, but picked up a shot at the 10. I was more upset with the bogey on 11, which is a birdie hole if you hit it in the fairway. That one cost me the title.
‘My approach ran through the green on the next par-five (13th) and I couldn’t up-and-down for birdie, but I rolled in a 15-footer on the 14th for birdie. And I hit a poor chip on 15 to miss a birdie on a makeable hole.’
Birdie putts refused to drop both at 16 and 17, but the eagle on 18 changed everything,
It moved him from 10th to eighth in the Race to Dubai. It moved him from joint sixth to a tie for second. It increased his prize-money from $170 000 to $430 000 – an increase of $260 000, which equates to around R3.5-million. So let’s call it Van’s ‘R3.5-million 20-footer!’
Compatriot Zander Lombard, also headed for the Gary Player Country Club – also had a good tournament, closing with rounds of 66 and 68 to tie for 17th on 14-under 274.
Reigning Qatar Masters champion Justin Harding, who led the South African challenge on day one, went into reverse over the last two rounds and closed with an even-par 72 to finish joint 25th on 12-under.
Richard Sterne tied for 50th on four-under, Christiaan Bezuidenhout finished a further two strokes back in joint 56th and George Coetzee finished one shot better than Justin Walters on two-under.
– By Lali Stander and Grant Winter
Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images