Sunday, 01 December 2019 22:22

Pablo Larrazabal battled through the pain of blistered feet to win the Alfred Dunhill Championship at a Leopard Creek golf course where his professional career first teed off 12 years ago.

The Spaniard showed immense heart as he birdied the last to pull himself out of a three-way tie for the lead and win by a single stroke on eight under par with a closing 75 on Sunday.

It was one of the most memorable victories in the history of this championship, and from a man who described it as the most memorable of his entire career. 

“This has been the toughest day of my golf career. I developed blisters on my feet on the back nine in the third round. I woke up this morning and put my golf shoes on, and I couldn’t walk. I also had a blister on my right toe and that meant I couldn’t swing through the ball properly. I really struggled. I was in pain on every shot,” said Larrazabal.

The effects of that pain showed as Larrazabal, who started the final round with a three-stroke lead, limped to a front nine of 41.

“When I stepped onto the 10th tee, I told myself that I had just played the worst front nine of my career, but I was still just two shots behind the leader,” he said. 

“I made myself believe. I just tried to put my ball on the fairway and let my short game do the talking. I put a lot of heart into it. My golf career started here in this tournament 12 years and 388 tournaments ago. Now I get to lift this trophy. It’s very special.

“If it was any other tournament, I might have just given up. But this place is so special to me. I probably have as many South African friends as Spanish friends. All of the members here at Leopard Creek are good friends. So to win here is a dream come true. And to pull this off after four-and-a-half years without a win makes me the happiest man in the world.”

There were so many possible fairy-tale endings to this tournament. 

Sweden’s Joel Sjöholm was the second reserve for the tournament and decided to risk coming out to South Africa in the hope of finding a place in the field. He was one of those tied for the lead with Larrazabal before ending a successful week in second place on seven under with a closing 69. 

Charl Schwartzel decided to make his comeback from an eight-month injury layoff in a tournament he has won four times and finished second in four times. He came close to winning it before finishing tied third on six under with a final round of 70.

And former world top-10 player Branden Grace, who has slumped to 130th on the rankings, challenged for the title over the closing holes before also finishing tied third with a 73.

But for this week in the African bush, it was the man with the bloodied feet who was the one walking tall on the 18th green at Leopard Creek.