Pieter Moolman claimed his maiden victory on the Sunshine Tour when he beat Jayden Schaper in a playoff to win the inaugural Fortress Invitational at Ebotse Links on Sunday.
Moolman started the final round three shots behind Schaper. As he reached the final hole in regulation play, he was three under for his round, having mixed five birdies with two bogeys, and looked like falling just short on 12 under as Schaper was already on 14 under.
But the 31-year-old Moolman hit an excellent drive and a superb approach shot on the par-five 18th to 10 feet from the hole, and nailed the eagle putt to vault to 14 under.
Schaper then bogeyed the par-four 17th but made birdie at the last to force a playoff with an excellent up-and-down after short-siding himself.
Moolman again hit a brilliant second in the playoff, finishing just off the green after being in the semi-rough on a mound. He would chip and sink a four-foot putt for birdie, while Schaper was unfortunate that his approach shot took a hard first bounce and ran through the green. The 21-year-old then missed his 10-footer for birdie, handing Moolman the win.
“I’ve lost a few times in these situations, but I’ve played better golf a few times than I did today,” Moolman said. “So to get over the line is really special and it shows that it does not take a perfect performance to win. It’s more mental, about believing you can still put a score on the board if you’re playing average golf, when your swing is not really there. I just had to stay in the moment and commit to what I was doing, take it shot-for-shot.”
Schaper will look back on a level-par back nine, which featured bogeys at the par-three 11th and the penultimate hole, as having cost him, but he showed tremendous determination and character in birdieing the last hole to get into the playoff.
For Moolman, who like Schaper is based in Benoni and knows the Ebotse Links well, the win will give him great confidence heading into the big summer events. He has finished runner-up twice before this year, including at the Tour Championship at nearby Serengeti Estate.
“I’ve been playing solid golf for a while and I played solid enough the whole week, I was just trying to give myself opportunities, keep the ball in play and give myself a chance,” Moolman said.
“Finishing second at the Wild Coast a few weeks back, I made some mistakes down the back nine, but I learned from that and how to stay strong. Now that I’ve won, you start believing you can win again and that you belong here. I’m looking forward to the summer events.”
Although he finished fourth, two shots off the pace, Sean Bradley will remember the final round for a long time as he began with a double-bogey at the 1st hole, but then made a hole-in-one at the par-three 8th. He then rounded off his round with a massive eagle putt, from off the green, on the last hole, finishing with a 63 that put him right into contention.
American Dan Erickson claimed third place on 13 under, signing for a 67 after he could only make par on the last three holes.