DAINFERN, Johannesburg – Jaco Ahlers claimed his 10th Sunshine Tour victory when he beat Ockie Strydom in a playoff for the Stella Artois Players Championship at the Dainfern Golf Estate on Sunday, and a week before his current win exemption category on the Tour was due to end.
Ahlers won with a birdie on the second playoff hole. His playoff experience certainly proved crucial as he has now won half of his 10 titles in playoffs. Ahlers has also now won five of the seven playoffs he’s been involved in on the Sunshine Tour.
“I’ve had a bit of experience with playoffs. It’s really nice to get this win,” said Ahlers, who was rewarded with one of the most unique trophies on the Sunshine Tour in the shape of a Stella Artois beer tap.
“I actually asked the Stellas Artois people whether it was a working beer tap because this trophy is going to look great in my bar. But it’s just so good to win. My win exemption was going to end in the final tournament of the season next week so the timing couldn’t be more perfect, and especially with me now having an Asian Tour card and I can also focus my efforts there.”
For the second year in succession this tournament was decided by a playoff as Ahlers and Strydom finished the regulation 72 holes tied for the lead on 18 under par. Both golfers had the chance to win it in regulation though, and both missed the very makeable birdie putts they had on the par-five 18th on their way to respective final rounds of 66.
Both birdied the 18th on the first playoff hole, with Strydom escaping with a lucky bounce after he pulled his drive and it hit a tree and kicked back towards the fairway.
Playing the 18th for a second time, Ahlers hit the green with his second while Strydom finished just off the left fringe. Ahlers holed his birdie putt to put the pressure on his playing partner. Strydom opted to chip and although he came inches close to holing out, his ball ran 10 feet past and he was unable to hole the birdie putt coming back.
“My short game was good all week. My ball striking not so much, but I suppose standing here at the end of it all is what counts the most,” said Ahlers, who made a big putt on the 17th to tie for the lead with Strydom.
“I said to my caddie that if we can birdie 17 and 18 we might be in with a chance. I wasn’t able to birdie 18 in regulation, but then again, standing here is what counts.”
Tristen Strydom, Estiaan Conradie and JJ Senekal shared third place on 17 under par, while Neil Schietekat shot through the field with a final round of 63 to finish tied ninth.
The Sunshine Tour heads to the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate this week for the season-ending Tour Championship. – Michael Vlismas.