Tommy Fleetwood made it back-to-back Nedbank Golf Challenge titles – albeit three years apart – after edging out Ryan Fox down the stretch at Gary Player Country Club.
The Sun City event was last staged in 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the defending champion repeated the feat in similar fashion, coming from off the pace with a final-round charge to take the spoils.
Fleetwood shot a five-under-par 67 to finish on 11 under, one ahead of New Zealand’s Fox, who would have leapfrogged Rory Mcllroy at the top of the DP World Tour Rankings in Partnership with Rolex with a victory.
Fleetwood and Fox went into the final round three shots behind Rasmus Højgaard and Thomas Detry and the overnight leaders had only managed five holes when play was suspended due to lightning in the area.
Shortly after the restart, Højgaard went bogey-bogey-double bogey from the seventh, and Fleetwood and India’s Shubhankar Sharma took advantage, moving to ten under with birdies at the par-five ninth. Sharma posted another at the tenth while Fleetwood could only par as Fox joined the party.
Fox had started with six straight pars then birdied four in a row. He left himself around eight feet at the seventh and eighth, was unlucky with a long eagle putt at the ninth before tapping in, and then holed an 11-footer at the tenth.
Fleetwood slipped back after a bogey at the 12th but a moment of magic at the 14th turned things back in his favour. He was in the bunker left of the par-five in two and holed it for eagle it to jump to 11 under, and moments later, his playing partners Sharma and Fox rolled in their birdie putts and the three of them walked to the 15th tee sharing the lead.
Sharma’s challenge ended with bogeys at 16 and 17 and when Fleetwood tapped in for par at the last, after almost sinking a huge birdie attempt, Fox paid for a poor tee shot and posted his only bogey of the day at the worst possible moment.
Sharma finished in solo third at nine under par, with Scotland’s Richie Ramsay a shot further back. Christiaan Bezuidenhout was the highest placed home favourite at seven under par alongside Sweden’s Sebastian Soderberg.
“It’s been a great week,” a beaming Fleetwood admitted, “I already had so many amazing memories of this place, such a great connection to it. This has just added to that.
“It’s amazing we got four rounds in in the end and it was such a lovely feeling coming down the back nine with a chance and battling it out.
“You draw on the good memories that you have round somewhere you’ve won. I felt good all day. I played great when we came back out (after the weather delay). The putter went cold, didn’t hit bad putts at all. 10, 11, 12, 13, I missed a few chances and happened to be in the group where the players were doing all the scoring, so it maybe felt a little worse.”
Under the weather coming into the week, Fleetwood’s participation had been a serious pre-tournament doubt, but he was able to make it to the first tee for round one. “It was touch and go on Thursday morning, then Saturday when we were up early (to finish the second round) I felt like I had nothing in me. Really poorly again.
“The doctor here has been amazing. I just gave his little son the winning golf ball. Without him there was not a chance on Thursday I’d have played. I just thought, if I can just keep going a hole at a time.”
Fox, like Fleetwood whom he was paired with, leapfrogged those in the final two groups to take a share of the lead to the 18th tee, but the DP World Rankins number two was typically magnanimous in defeat. “I played great,” the New Zealander said afterwards, “didn’t miss a shot until 18, would have liked to have played 18 better and make Tommy work a bit harder.
“It’s an incredibly tough golf course to play down the stretch. Felt like I hit good shots, gave myself chances. Our whole group played well, all of us were there or thereabouts with three holes to play and Tommy was the one that held it together. Fair play to him.”