11 November 2018: The result seemed pre-destined for much of this week at Sun City. As the Nedbank Golf Challenge inched closer to the finish line, the only obvious outcome seemed like a resounding victory for Sergio Garcia. But sport isn’t sport when it lends itself to a bland prediction. Lee Westwood, three behind at the start of the final round, produced a stunning 64 on Sunday to ambush his way to victory. Shubhankar Sharma ended the week in T27, after a commendable 68 in the final round.
Westwood worked his way into the dialogue with an eagle on the second hole. That move helped Westwood set up a thrilling duel with Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen, producing one of the most memorable Sundays on the European Tour in 2018.
The 45-year-old secured a comfortable victory, his first since the Maybank Malaysian Open in 2014, with five birdies in his last eight holes, as a weary Garcia and Oosthuizen slowed into second and third places respectively.
“Pretty emotional. A little bit relieved. Still got it, I guess. Just nice to do it again under pressure and win against a couple of quality players at the end there, Sergio and Louis were my two nearest challengers,” said a delighted Westwood. “To hit the shots I hit down the stretch, it was just nice to prove it to yourself every now and again.
“It’s not such an easy golf course when the wind is in the direction it was and it was swirling as the day went on. I made a nice par on one, and a great three wood on the second to about three feet. Then made a lovely par at the third and then just steadied off and gave myself birdie chances pretty much all the way around. It was essential to get off to a quick start and put a bit of pressure on Sergio.
“Well, until now, my emotions have felt really under control all day, which is what I’ve been working on. I was just trying to hit fairways and stick to my game plan and hit it in the right places. I’ve got a bit of a process I’m going through with the golf swing. I’m starting to see better shots. The seven iron into 17 is probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit. It all just worked, and it was great to it with Helen (Storey).
“It’s been brilliant. She’s caddied twice for me this year and we lost in a play-off in Denmark and we’ve won here. Have to have a bit of a rethink, not least about who caddies for me, but our percentages.”
Garcia made amends for a bogey at the first hole, with a birdie at the 6th, but with Westwood scoring in bunches, he needed more than just the three birdies he managed in his final round 70.
“You have to give credit to Lee. To shoot 64 in the last round, I mean, the greens were a little bit softer today but still, you had to go out there and do it. It’s not that easy,” said a graceful Garcia.
“I played okay. I didn’t have my A Game, other than Thursday, but I fought hard. I stayed patient. Things didn’t really happen too much to me. I hit some good shots and a couple more putts here and there.
“I’m thrilled for him. He had a bad Ryder Cup at Hazeltine and he struggled a little bit, and he’s been playing much better this year. He’s been knocking on the door for winning. He played well in Valderrama. I wish I would have won myself, but if not, obviously to see Lee do it is pretty nice.
Oosthuizen was eager to make an impression on his home soil. He went all out on Sunday, scoring eight birdies, with four on either side. Unfortunately though, he conceded three bogeys and a painful double at the 72nd hole to settle into the third spot, three strokes clear from Ross Fisher.
“It’s not the result I wanted. I played really well today and was up in the leaderboard there for a while but Westwood, the way he played the back nine, I was pushing hard at the end to try something,” said Oosthuizen. “Proud of the way I handled it. I felt I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities and I played really well. Just had to do too much there at the end.
“I played well today. There’s not much I could have done more. I made good putts. I missed a few easier putts, but all in all, I attacked when I wanted to attack and I pulled a lot of good shots off.
“The big thing today for me was committing to the shot and taking it on, and don’t really matter what the outcome was. I did all that. There was maybe one or two I didn’t pull off. There’s not much more I can ask for.”
Li Haotong needed to secure victory to keep his hopes alive for a shot at winning the Race to Dubai. The Chinese star spared no effort, as he posted a nerveless 7-under 65. But alas, it was enough only for a fifth place with Matt Wallace. That result for Li guarantees a two way battle for the season’s European Tour honours between Tommy Fleetwood and Open Champion, Francesco Molinari.
68 helps Shubhankar Sharma finish in T27
Shubhankar Sharma showed great character as he endured a difficult week in South Africa. Despite a seventh straight week on the road, the young Indian showed tremendous resolve to work his way to a brilliantly crafted 68 in the final round.
After going over par in the first two rounds, Shubhankar got stuck into his job like a man on a mission. He went just under par in the third round and then worked his way back to even par with a brilliant effort to close out on his own terms.
Shubhankar struck six birdies and two bogeys in his 68. He started his day at the tenth, firing a birdie to set the tone for a forceful finish. But the course brought him back to his knees, extracting bogeys at 12 & 13 pushing him down to five over par.
Staring at a disappointing finish, Shubhankar grit his teeth and started to work his way back into the round. After four straight pars, Shubhankar posted his second birdie of the day at the 18th hole.
Even then, the Indian was due four strokes to the course. Shubhankar struck four birdies in five holes from the second hole to secure a respectable finish at T27.
273 L Westwood (Eng) 71 69 69 64,
276 S Garcia (Esp) 64 71 71 70,
277 L Oosthuizen (RSA) 69 67 72 69,
280 R Fisher (Eng) 71 72 67 70,
281 H Li (Chn) 71 70 75 65, M Wallace (Eng) 69 72 73 67,
282 T Detry (Bel) 75 66 68 73,
283 A Rai (Eng) 72 68 75 68,
284 D Fichardt (RSA) 74 67 71 72, C Paisley (Eng) 72 75 70 67,
285 A Pavan (Ita) 71 70 75 69, M Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 68 73 72 72, D Burmester (RSA) 72 71 70 72, B Grace (RSA) 70 71 74 70, L Bjerregaard (Den) 75 70 75 65,
286 A Otaegui (Esp) 74 72 71 69, M Korhonen (Fin) 68 70 71 77, A Wu (Chn) 69 73 74 70, W Ormsby (Aus) 73 74 72 67, J Scrivener (Aus) 69 76 70 71,
287 D Frittelli (RSA) 73 67 75 72, R McIlroy (Nir) 72 71 73 71, R Rock (Eng) 75 73 71 68, R Sterne (RSA) 77 69 70 71, M Kaymer (Ger) 76 69 71 71, J Smith (Eng) 79 69 72 67,
288 S Sharma (Ind) 74 75 71 68, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 71 71 73 73, T Immelman (RSA) 74 73 71 70, A Johnston (Eng) 73 69 73 73, R Paratore (Ita) 72 71 75 70, J Luiten (Ned) 72 75 70 71, J Lagergren (Swe) 72 74 71 71, P Larrazábal (Esp) 74 70 74 70,