Aussie overcomes personal issues for Nedbank win
AUSTRALIAN Marc Leishman spared the assembled gallery a white-knuckle finish by streaking away with the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City yesterday.
The imposing Victorian finished 19-under and beat Swede Henrik Stenson by six shots to become the second Aussie to win the event after Steve Elkington triumphed in 2009.
Leishman, who lost in a playoff at the British Open this year, started the day with a slender advantage but his unerring consistency meant his lead was never threatened.
He went through the turn one under for the day, but he finished like a man in full control of his shots and emotions.
He has had enough of the emotional stuff. This year he lost a dear uncle and almost his wife, Audrey, after she fell desperately ill, which caused him to miss the Masters.
“I was pretty happy to have this year over with. This tops off a year that wasn’t great. It’s an awesome feeling to win here and, hopefully, it can be a springboard for next year,” he said.
While many in the field would have been mentally and physically weary after a long year, Leishman had the benefit of a three-week break with his family.
It helped him finish with a spring in his step as he kept Stenson at bay.
He carded four birdies on the back nine removing from the equation the possibility of Stenson snapping at his heels.
Errant iron play, as well as the odd indiscretion off the tee, meant Stenson rarely gave himself chances to reel in Leishman.
He found the bunker on the par three 12th but scrambled well to make par.
On the par four 13th his approach dropped down the embankment and Leishman seized the moment. The Australian’s second shot almost rolled into the hole for eagle but he birdied as Stenson successfully negotiated a testing putt for par.
Stenson went down a green side slope on the next hole as Leishman again played an immaculate approach. Stenson found the bush off the 15th tee and by the time he lined up his putt for par Leishman had already stretched his lead to four shots courtesy of another birdie.
Stenson missed his putt which meant the Australian walked onto the 16th with a five-shot advantage.
Jaco van Zyl, who started the day more in hope than expectation four shots off the pace, made a nervy start.
He dragged his tee shot on the first way right and from there he could only get the ball into the rough guarding the green.
His chip dropped anchor in the first cut and his putt slid by dropping him five shots behind the leader.
He eagled the second but the sixth prove decisive. After three attempts to get the ball onto the fairway, Van Zyl flicked thorns from his left arm, betraying the position from where he played his second shot.
He double-bogeyed but further drops at eight and nine confirmed his slide into also-ran oblivion.
Branden Grace finished tied fourth with Danny Willett and Victor Dubuisson on eight under, while Charl Schwartzel tied ninth on six under.
Defending champion Willett, who was hamstrung by a bad back, compiled a solid final round before finishing with a flourish.
He birdied 16 before chipping in from close range on the 18th.