Sullivan earns improbable win at South African Open

Johannesburg, South Africa ( – After Charl Schwartzel
surrendered a 4-shot lead over his final five holes, Andy Sullivan went on to
birdie the first playoff hole and defeat the South African to win the South
African Open Championship on Sunday.

Schwartzel, who led Sullivan by four shots heading to the 14th hole, made two
bogeys and a double-bogey down the stretch to blow his lead and force a
playoff with the Englishman.

From the left rough and under a tree on the first playoff hole, Sullivan hit
an incredible approach shot to within 10 feet and he knocked in the subsequent
putt to earn his first career victory on the European Tour.

“It’s unbelievable,” Sullivan said. “After Saturday I didn’t think I stood
much of a chance with Charl getting ahead that far. I just dug in there
yesterday and today and found myself in a position where I had a chance to
win. My caddie said over the last few holes ‘no regrets’ and I’ve definitely
got no regrets over the last few holes, especially the playoff hole.”

Sullivan, the second-round leader, rebounded after a 74 on Saturday and fired
a 5-under 67 Sunday, while Schwartzel carded a 2-over 74. The duo finished
regulation tied at 11-under-par 277.

“To just play on the European Tour is something I’ve wanted to do my whole
life, so to win an event just caps it all off and to do it in South Africa
where I have always enjoyed playing, it has just been an incredible week,”
said Sullivan.”

Lee Slattery finished with a 3-under 69 and he ended alone in third at 10-
under 278. Pablo Martin Benavides also shot a 69 and he finished in fourth at
9-under 279.

Schwartzel entered the final round with a 5-shot lead over Matthew Fitzpatrick
and David Drysdale, while Sullivan sat seven shots back of the lead.
Fitzpatrick shot a 73 to end tied for fifth with six others at 7-under 281,
while Drysdale (74) finished tied for 11th at minus-6.

Playing five groups ahead of Schwartzel on the final day, Sullivan appeared to
have only a slim chance of catching the leader. In fact, Sullivan made the
turn at just 1-under for the day with birdies on two and six to go along with
a bogey on eight. Schwartzel was even par through seven after a birdie on five
and a bogey on seven.

Sullivan moved to within five of the leader with another birdie on No. 10, but
the big shot that gave Sullivan momentum came on No. 12. With Schwartzel
through eight, Sullivan chipped in from off the green for eagle on the par-4
12th to move to minus-10, just three behind Schwartzel.

It was virtually a two-player race down the stretch, although it appeared as
if nobody was going to catch Schwartzel. The 30-year-old South African made a
gain on 12, while Sullivan later poured in a birdie of his own on 16, keeping
Schwartzel’s lead at three.

Another birdie by Schwartzel on 13 had him looking good with a 4-shot lead,
but then it all fell apart.

With Sullivan finished at minus-11, the downfall started for Schwartzel when
he missed a short par putt on the par-3 14th, dropping his advantage back to
three. Two holes later, Schwartzel flew his approach on 16 over the green. His
chip shot went well by the hole and he three-putted for double-bogey. Just
like that, Schwartzel’s lead was down to one.

It only got worse for Schwartzel as his tee shot on the par-3 17th went well
right. All he could do was chip on and two-putt for bogey, tying him with
Sullivan. Schwartzel nearly made a long birdie putt at the last to win, but he
settled for par and headed to the playoff with Sullivan.

Back on the 18th hole, Schwartzel’s tee shot was errant to the right and
Sullivan’s went well left. All Schwartzel could do was lay up in the fairway
and watch Sullivan stick a spectacular second shot to within 10 feet.

Schwartzel did well to put the pressure on Sullivan when he stuck his approach
to three feet and all but secure par. Sullivan came through in the clutch,
however, as he drained his birdie putt for the win.

“My caddie said ‘expect him to hole’ (his third shot) and he nearly did,” said
Sullivan. “I was just delighted just to hit the green and have a chance to win
and I’m just glad I took it.”

NOTES: Six of Schwartzel’s nine European Tour victories have come in South
Africa, but he has never won this event … Schwartzel finished tied for
second here back in 2005 … Prior to this event, Sullivan’s best finish on
tour came last season at the Trophee Hassan II, where he ended runner-up …
Sullivan also shared the first-round lead with Jbe Kruger … Sullivan earned
158,500 euros with this victory … Next up for the European Tour is the Abu
Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship next week, where Pablo Larrazabal won last