IT ALL came down to a classic “back nine on Sunday duel” and Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen fought brilliantly to come from behind to edge out young playing partner Wilco Nienaber and win the Joburg Open on Randpark’s outstanding Firethorn course.
Hansen posted a bogey-free, four-under-par 67 following earlier rounds of 66, 68 and 64 for a 19-under-par 265 aggregate. Nienaber closed with bogeys at 17 and 18, his only dropped shots of the day, on his way to a 70 and second place on 267, with Wilco’s fellow South African Shaun Norris shooting a superb 66 to claim third spot on 268.
“I feel pretty emotional right now,” said a tearful Hansen after the final putt had dropped, to register his maiden victory on the European Tour. “A win at this level – it’s what we all work hard for over the years. Wilco hits it so far and straight but we – that’s me and my caddie – stuck to our game plan all week. I putted so well. I didn’t miss a putt under six feet all four days, and knocked in a few long ones too.”
The pair started the day with 20-year-old Nienaber up front on minus-16 and Hansen one behind him. And when the hugely talented South African – so new to the professional game and also seeking his first victory at this level – reeled off three straight birdies at holes 4, 5 and 6, he was able to go into the back nine with what looked like a comfortable three-shot lead on 19-under.
But then Hansen began his superb fightback, with birdies at the tough, par-4 10th hole, 12, 13 and 14. The 12th and 14th are par-5s – easily reachable in two by Nienaber who tops the long-driving stats on the European Tour with his booming tee-shots regularly flying over 400 yards. But, slightly tentative with the pressure on, he could only make pars at these two holes where he would normally expect to pick up birdie or eagle. Then the two closing bogeys – where Hansen made rock-solid pars – saw his challenge finally come to an end.
It is clear, though, that Nienaber has an absolutely outstanding future in the game. With his incredible long game and all-round shotmaking skills he is being widely tipped to become South Africa’s next great champion.
Randpark’s pure greens, as smooth as billiard table surfaces, certainly played a part in proceedings all week. Putts hit on line at the right speed from golfers with pure putting strokes went in time and again. And Hansen and Nienaber both have pure putting strokes.
They both holed out beautifully, but at the end of a memorable week on fabulous Firethorn the determined Dane had the final say.
As for Nienaber, at 20 years old with a talent akin to what Ernie Els had at the same age, well, watch this space beginning with the Alfred Dunhill Championship running from Thursday at Leopard Creek. Then, the following week, it’s the South African Open at Sun City – a tournament that brings to a close the three-tournament South African swing of the European Tour.
For the record, South Africa’s Brandon Stone, Canada’s Steve Surry and Canada’s Aaron Cockerill shared fourth place on 13-under 271.
Written by Randpark Member Grant Winter.