Otto wins the South African Open

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Hennie Otto has won the coveted South African Open for the first time – but it was no cake walk.

Hennie Otto has won the coveted South African Open for the first time – but in the end, it was certainly no cake walk.

The 35-year-old South African started the day with a comfortable three-shot lead and was still three clear when he reached the turn at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Serengeti golf course near Johannesburg.

But then some late drama fluttered into the event when the tension seemed to get to him and he ran into trouble coming down the closing stretch.

Three shaky bogies in four holes from the unlucky 13th saw him fall back into a tie at the top with the up-and-coming young Austrian, Bernd Wiesberger, who had earlier taken his closing score to 13-under with a 4-under 68 that equalled the best score on a difficult day and was keeping himself warm in case there was a play-off.

It was a pretty much a two horse race at this stage as no one had really got close enough to Otto to pose a serious threat.

England’s Richard McEvoy and South Africans Thomas Aiken and unheralded Ockie Strydom, who finished in a tie for third at 11-under were never much closer than three or four shots and you could say the same thing about Goosen and Otto’s playing partner Magnus Carlsson who finished in a tie for sixth at 10-under with South African young gun Trevor Fisher Jnr.

Otto was clearly shaken at this stage, but he pulled himself together and managed to finish with a fine birdie at 17 and a rock solid par at 18 that gave him the level-par 70 and 14-under 274 total that he needed to edge him home by one shot.

His joy and relief were clearly visible when he punched his chest and pointed at the sky in a symbolic thank you to his maker after sinking his winning putt from two or three feet.

The victory, which seemed a mere formality before Otto found sand at the 13th, came up short of the green at the par-three 15th and overcooked his approach at the next with a wedge, takes him from 80th on The Race to Dubai standings to comfortably inside the top 60 just in time to secure his place at the season-closing Dubai World Championship next month

Looking back at the dramatic final day of an event in which the defending champion Ernie Els had a miserable weekend and when nothing, but nothing would drop for luckless Retief Goosen after a brilliant three-birdie start had briefly propelled him into the lead on Saturday, Otto, no longer the firebrand he was, will probably always single out the 17th as his highlight of the day.

He drove the ball over the green with his driver at this short par four, but hit an exquisite chip out of a thick knot of rough and then nailed a tricky putt of some six or seven feet for the absolutely critical birdie that was to edge him back into the lead with just one hole two go and rekindle the confidence that had taken such a beating over the previous four holes.

“Yes, I really made it tough for myself, didn’t I?” Otto said with a smile when talking to a TV crew after his second victory on the European Tour.

“I’ve come close, once or twice, so winning my country’s national open this time was something really special. I feel so proud that my name will be joining all the great golfers who have won it before me.”

He is the sixth South African to win on The European Tour this season, following Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel (2), Thomas Aiken and Garth Mulroy, whose victory at the Alfred Dunhill Championship was the 100th by a South African in the Tour’s history.

For Wiesberger it was his second runner-up finish of the year.

He was in the five-man play-off won by Thomas Björn at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in Scotland in August but with his obvious ability it shouldn’t be too long before he wins a title.

Northern Ireland’s Gareth Maybin, on the other hand, slipped from 118th to 120th after finishing well down the field, but he does still have the UBS Hong Kong Open to come this week as he attempt to get back among the 118 who will retain their Tour cards.

Steven O’Hara, who led at halfway and needed a top-three finish to save his card, fell away to 25th and fellow Scot Lloyd Saltman also faces a return to The Qualifying School after a double bogey six on the last dropped him to ninth.

If the former amateur star had parred the hole he would have been joint third and would have earned a spot in Hong Kong.

His closing 70 included eight birdies, but also a bogey six on the long third and a triple bogey six at the ninth.

TOP 10 LEADERBOARD

274 Hennie Otto (Rsa) 70 67 65 72

275 Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 69 68 70 68

277 Ockie Strydom (Rsa) 69 72 67 69, Thomas Aiken (Rsa) 68 69 68 72, Richard McEvoy 70 70 69 68

278 Magnus A Carlsson (Swe) 73 66 66 73, Retief Goosen (Rsa) 66 68 71 73, Trevor Fisher Jnr (Rsa) 68 72 70 68

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