Fichardt Overcomes Setback for Victory


Darren Fichardt produced one of the gutsiest fightbacks the Sunshine Tour has ever seen on Sunday to win the inaugural Tour Championship by four shots from Hennie Otto as he closed with a 3-under-par 68 for a 14-under-par total of 270 at Leopard Creek.
Bradford Vaughan, the winner in Swaziland a week earlier, produced a closing 67 to win the race for second place on the order of merit with Trevor Immelman and Roger Wessels. Vaughan was on an 8-under-par total of 276, one behind Grant Muller, who made a birdie four at the last to make third spot his own, although he had a chance of an eagle that would have left him joint second with Otto, who finished with a 67.
There are 68s and there are 68s, and Fichardt's on Sunday - his fourth sub-70 round of the tournament - was one of the most eventful yet played, containing seven birdies, an eagle, four bogeys and a two-shot penalty.
It clinched his first summer tour victory - he had previously won the Bearing Man Highveld Classic in Witbank - and crowned a difficult campaign for Fichardt, who lost his sister, Debbie, in a car accident just over a month ago. He dedicated the victory to his sister and to her husband, Mark Schultz, and their children, Dale and Nicole. 'My sister was always a great supporter of mine,' he said.
The 25-year-old from Pretoria stormed clear of the field early on Sunday, with two birdies and an eagle in his first five holes, to extend his one-shot overnight lead to four, but an incident on the par-4 6th, where he repaired a pitch mark off the green, contravening rule 13.2, which says a player may not improve his 'line of play,' cost him a two-shot penalty.
The infringement was spotted by the man behind the spectacular Leopard Creek development, Johann Rupert, who pointed it out to Fichardt before it was discussed with tournament director Theo Manyama, who confirmed the penalty.
'It's a ruling that I'm not familiar with, but that obviously is the rule, so it shows that I must learn my rules a bit better,' admitted Fichardt. 'A two-shot penalty always knocks you and I had to dig deep after that,' he said, giving credit to his family for helping pull him through.
Fichardt parred the seventh, but then bogeyed three holes in a row around the turn, before arresting the slump in emphatic style with birdies at Nos. 11, 12, 13 and 14 to again pull four clear, this time of Otto, who had leapfrogged Muller on the leaderboard.
'It definitely feels like this is the real breakthrough,' said Fichardt, who narrowly missed out on forcing a play-off with Swede Mathias Gronberg at last year's SA Open.
Now he's set to take the next step up the ladder in Europe, where there are 'four tournaments in a row I think I can get starts in'.
Mark McNulty, who topped the order of merit with R1,603,481, said: 'I'm delighted to have achieved this. This was one of the goals I set myself at the beginning of the season. To win three out of the six tournaments I played on the tour is fantastic.
'My victory in the SA Open is undoubtedly the most special of those and this is a great way to start the year.'
Vaughan's round on Sunday took him to R686,414 and a distant second place, some R54,000 ahead of Wessels, who will join him and McNulty at the American Express World Golf Championship event in the United States later this year, although only McNulty and Vaughan qualify for the British Open.
Otto's second on Sunday have him fourth place on R620,210, just R445 ahead of Immelman.