Charl Schwartzel successfully defended his Joburg Open title on Sunday, birdieing the last hole for a 4-under 67 that gave him a four-stroke victory.
The South African finished at 19-under 265, overcoming a midround wobble at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club. Overnight co-leader and compatriot Garth Mulroy shot a 71 to finish second in the last of four events on the European Tour’s season-opening South African Swing.
Thomas Aiken, also of South Africa, had a 72 and was another shot back in third. England’s Jamie Elson was another stroke back in fourth, one shot ahead of Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, who was alone in fifth.
The top five players all qualified for next week’s $2.7 million Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
Schwartzel, the highest ranked player in the field at No. 32, had six birdies and two bogeys in the final round on the East Course, but fired a string of wayward tee and approach shots and was forced to scramble to stay ahead. He bogeyed Nos. 4 and 9, and struggled to save par on Nos. 10-11 before he moved three shots clear with a chip-in birdie from the bunker on No. 13 -- after which his lead was never threatened.
“I got my nose ahead, but coming into nine I hit it slightly too hard and over the back,” Schwartzel said. “It was a bad bogey for me and things started to get shaky from there. I had to really dig deep out there on the back nine.
“My putting and short game came to my rescue and that’s what you need to do to win tournaments.”
Out in front, Mulroy and Aiken couldn’t take advantage of Schwartzel’s missteps around the turn.
Mulroy had just one birdie and bogeyed the 11th for his worst round of the tournament. Aiken also dropped a shot at No. 11 and again at No. 17 to slip to third, still in search of his first European Tour title.
“Thomas (Aiken) and Garth (Mulroy) probably outplayed me in the back nine, but I just managed to get the ball in the hole,” Schwartzel said.
The 26-year-old Schwartzel, whose previous scores this week had been 68, an immaculate 61 and 69, failed to produce his best golf in Round 4 but still did enough to clinch a sixth European Tour title.
Jamie Elson was the highest placed Briton after he ended on 13 under overall and in fourth place. The Englishman, a former Walker Cup star, had been in contention all week but could only close with a level-par 71.
Jean-Baptiste Gonnet from France finished with a 1-over 72 and a 12-under total, while Scott Jamieson from Scotland completed his week a further shot back on 11 under. Jamieson's seven birdies and a bogey helped him complete the round of the day, a 65.
Sweden’s Oscar Floren (72) along with South Africans Tjaart van der Walt (67), George Coetzee (69), James Kingston (71) and Allan Versfeld (72) all ended in a tie for seventh on 10 under to make the top 10. Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke had a 69 to pick up 28 places and tie for 20th at 6 under.
But Schwartzel was the toast of Johannesburg on a day that began with grey skies, followed by rain and then saw him playing his closing holes under bright sunshine.
The world No. 32, who was the highest-ranked player in the field, recorded six birdies and two bogeys Sunday despite struggling with his long game, especially on the back nine where he hit just one fairway.
"For me I didn't really play well on those last nine holes, but I just kept telling myself, 'you've got a good short game and you can do it,' and my putting along with the short game came to the rescue,” he said. "It sounds easy, but I've been working really hard on my pitch shots, bunker play and chipping and it helped me when I needed it most today."
Schwartzel, who became only the third South African after Ernie Els and Trevor Immelman to successfully defend a European Tour title, admitted it was the front nine holes that won him the tournament, although a bogey on the ninth did give his challengers hope.
"Coming down the ninth, I hit it slightly too hard and it went over the back. It was a bad bogey for me and things started getting a bit shaky for me,” he said. "I had to really dig deep there on the back nine and managed to make a score. I'm really pleased that all my hard work has paid off."