PORT EDWARD, KwaZulu-Natal – CJ du Plessis was able to neutralise the considerable threat posed by Jean Hugo and Neil Schietekat, as well as the pressure of his own expectations, as an extraordinary finish saw the 32-year-old claim his first Sunshine Tour title with a one-stroke victory in the SunBet Challenge Wild Coast at the Wild Coast Sun Country Club on Saturday.
Heading to the 16th green one stroke behind Hugo, Du Plessis notched a sensational eagle as he drained what he later described as “a 100-foot putt right across the whole green that somehow found the bottom of the cup”.
Hugo birdied the par-five so the duo were all-square when they reached the final hole. Du Plessis’s drive was too far left, however, and found a fairway bunker. But the Silver Lakes Country Club golfer hit a tremendous seven-iron to 12 feet of the hole and made the putt for birdie, his six-under 64 lifting him to 11-under-par for the tournament. When Hugo could only make par, Du Plessis had his first win in his 193rd tournament and following five runner-up finishes.
His remarkable feat left him and many others feeling that this victory was maybe just meant to be.
“I’m ecstatic,” Du Plessis said. “I knew it was going to be a tough day and Jean and Neil would fight all the way, they’re not guys to just give it to you. But it was a phenomenal finish.
“This win was written in the stars. My coach for the last 20-odd years, Raymond Earle, passed away last week and this win is 100% for him. This morning, while I was having my coffee and it was still dark, I saw a shooting star and thought maybe today would be a special day. Sometimes it’s just meant to be,” Du Plessis said.
Schietekat, the 39-year-old current leader of the Order of Merit delivered by The Courier Guy, just could not get going in the final round, two birdies in the last three holes giving him a one-under 69 that left him on seven-under for the tournament, four strokes behind Du Plessis.
But whether it was going to be 21-time winner Hugo or Du Plessis who would claim the R300 000 first prize was an enthralling battle.
Du Plessis, who began the day one behind, went two ahead with birdies on the first, third and fourth holes, while Hugo could only make pars. But the tables were turned by the time the duo began the back nine, Hugo having birdied the par-three sixth and par-four ninth holes. Du Plessis suffered a double-bogey at the par-three eighth as he over-compensated for the water on the left, but he levelled matters again with birdies on the 11th and 12th holes.
Hugo collected further birdies on the 13th and 16th holes and did little wrong in a bogey-free round of 66. But the 47-year-old just could not match the fantastic finish by Du Plessis.
For the champion, there will be no more uncertainty over whether he can win or not.
“My driving was not the best today, but my short game and putting really pulled me through. I’ve been working really hard on that with Robbie Stewart, my short-game coach.
“Expectations have killed me so many times before, but today I just stuck with my routines and I knew I would be up there if I did that. This win takes so much pressure off, it’s life-changing. I can now prepare for the big events without having to pre-qualify,” Du Plessis said.