Martin of Spain rallies to grab Alfred Dunhill title for second straight year

pablo martin
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Pablo Martin earned his third European Tour trophy on Sunday, and his second in a row at Leopard Creek.
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PA Sport and Associated Press

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Pablo Martin survived a disastrous triple bogey to successfully defended his Alfred Dunhill Championship title Sunday, shooting a 2-under 70 for a two-shot victory. The tournament, sanctioned by southern Africa’s Sunshine Tour, also was the first official event of the 2011 European Tour season.

The Spaniard had a 7 at the par-4 17th but recovered to birdie the last for an 11-under 277 at Leopard Creek Country Club. He was two clear of Thorbjorn Olesen (66), Charl Schwartzel (70) and Anthony Michael (73), who took a one-stroke lead into the final round.

2010 ALFRED DUNHILL CHAMPIONSHIP

The Alfred Dunhill Championship is the first event of the 2011 European Tour season.

“I played really well for nine holes, then I got myself into trouble,” Martin said. “It was a good start and it gave me a little bit of a cushion, and I needed it.”

He had surged ahead with an eagle-birdie start, and opened a five-shot lead through 11 holes following birdies on Nos. 7 and 9. With a three-shot lead on the tee at No. 17, the triple bogey then cut his advantage over playing partner Michael to one stroke with one hole to play.

But Martin recovered to put his second shot on the par-5 No. 18 on the middle of the green, and Michael found the water to end his chances.

Martin finished with a birdie-4 for successive victories at South Africa’s top-rated course, winning a $210,000 check. He is the first winner on the 2010-11 Race to Dubai and the first player to retain a European Tour title since Padraig Harrington won a second straight British Open in 2008.

“I was able to hit a couple of good shots coming in, especially the one on 18,” Martin said. “On 17, I made a big mess but I was really lucky that everything went well.”

Michael had led since after the first round, but the rookie had two bogeys and a double bogey Sunday and couldn’t match Martin’s attacking play in his bid for a first professional victory. He made a 15-foot putt for par on No. 18 to make sure of his share of second, but will have to wait for his first tournament win as a professional after his worst round of the tournament.

Martin made a blistering start when he almost holed his approach to the first and then sank a 10-foot eagle putt at No. 2. He got lucky on No. 13 when a wayward shot was held up by a bunker that kept it from into a crocodile-infested river.

On No. 17 he found a fairway bunker off the tee and then fired his second deep into the thick grass on the lip of the bunker. He ended up chipping out onto the fairway and then three-putted.

But he regained his composure with a 5-iron to the heart of the green on the last and collected a third career title after his 2009 win here and the 2007 Portugal Open -- when he became the first amateur to win a European Tour event.

Olesen, Denmark’s Challenge Tour graduate, had six birdies in his 66 to jump 10 places.

Schwartzel mixed four birdies with two bogeys in his 70, securing the 2010 Snshine Tour Order of Merit title.

South Africa’s Thomas Aiken (70) was alone in fifth on 7-under 281, while England’s Robert Dinwiddie (70) and another South African, Alex Haindl (73), shared sixth at 282.

Martin only arrived on the eve of the competition and did not even have a practice round.

"I've been playing decently lately. I didn't know what to expect because I only got here late on Wednesday,” he explained. "I just wanted to try my best and do as well as I could, so I'm really pleased it went my way."

Michael was satisfied with the way his tournament ended, despite a disappointing final round.

"It feels like a win for me, I mean I've overcome a lot this week,” he said. "Emotions have been beyond anything I ever thought I could feel. It is slightly disappointing, I had to have a go at the green at the last, but I'm really pleased and it's difficult to put my emotions into words."