Martin triumphs at Leopard Creek

Pablo Martin made European Tour history when he beat Charl Schwartzel at the Alfred Dunhill Championship on Sunday.

Spain’s Pablo Martin made European Tour history when he beat Charl Schwartzel in an edge-of-the-seat thriller at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek on Sunday.
Two years after becoming the first amateur to win on the circuit, the 23-year-old is now the only golfer ever to capture titles both as an amateur and as a professional.
He won the Portuguese Open as an amateur and and soon after turned professional.
But the 23-year-old former US college star, ranked 488th in the world at the start of this week’s tournament, was in the depths of despair about his game after a string of missed cuts this year.
He now ends 2009 on a real high after beating home hope and former winner Charl Schwartzel by a single stroke in a thrilling finish.
Martin also made sure of keeping his Tour card, but he is now exempt until the end of 2012 – and over £143,000 richer and tops the 2010 Race To Dubai standings.
The Malaga golfer had had only one top-10 finish since his triumph at the Portuguese Open, but with a closing three-under-par 69 the overnight leader was able to hold off the charging Schwartzel (68) to win with a 17-under total.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “I am so happy and there was so much emotion today.”
Martin was able to celebrate his victory with his sister. She had accompanied him on a trip that was part holiday to see the wildlife in the Kruger National Park adjoining Leopard Creek.
While there was ecstasy for him, there was agony for several others at the 541-yard 18th – one of the toughest finishing holes in golf – which claimed yet more victims.
Welshman Sion Bebb, only one behind after an eagle on the 13th, crashed to a sextuple bogey 11 there after tangling with trees and then twice finding the narrow island green only to see his balls roll through it and into the water at the back of it.
That dropped him from fifth to 17th alongside Ernie Els, who, after starting the day tied for second, shot a miserable 77.
The former Open champion’s round ended in a double-bogey seven on the hole where he took eight when two in front two years ago, while Ireland’s Gareth Maybin also took seven at the dangerous 18th when lying third and Frenchman Michael Lorenzo-Vera had an eight to fall from fourth to eighth.
Martin was two ahead of Schwartzel on the 18th tee and, despite a huge drive, chose to lay up short of the lake.
Schwartzel, who had had a hat-trick of birdies from the 14th before bogeying the 17th, had to do the same after almost hooking his drive out of bounds, but he then piled the on pressure by pitching close.
Martin’s third shot, in the meantime, was close to going over the green, but much to his relief, hung up in the fringe of the rough sloping down to the water where so many others had seen their balls disappear and he then two-putted for victory.
It completed a remarkable recovery from a nightmare collapse in which he missed 20 out of 22 cuts last season.
Els is not playing in this week’s South African Open and so his run of at least one victory every year since 1990 has come to an end. His last victory was in America in March last year.
There have been two more amateur winners since Martin’s breakthrough, but both came this year and neither New Zealander Danny Lee nor Irishman Shane Lowry have followed it up with a win in the paid ranks as yet.