Larrazabal wins Dunhill despite horror start

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Spain's Pablo Larrazabal at Leopard Creek in Malelane, November 28 2019. CHRISTIAAN KOTZE / AFP

Spain's Pablo Larrazabal survived a badly blistered foot and “the worst golf of my career” to win the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek on Sunday.

Larrazabal birdied three of the last four holes as he recovered from a round which included six bogeys and a double bogey.

His final round of three-over-par 75, for a four-round total of eight-under-par 280, gave him a one-stroke win over Joel Sjoholm of Sweden in the first event of the 2019/20 European Tour.

On a day when wind and challenging pin positions sent scores scoring, Sjoholm’s final round of 69 was the best of the leading contenders.

South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace and Holland’s Wil Besseling were tied for third, a further stroke back, in a tournament co-sanctioned by South Africa’s Sunshine Tour.

‘Big blister on my right foot’

Larrazabal, 36, went into the final round with a three-stroke lead over playing partner Besseling but his chances of breaking a four-year victory drought seemed to have evaporated when he literally limped to a six-over-par first nine of 41.

Struggling with blisters, he took his shoes off as he walked down the ninth fairway.

“I woke up this morning and I couldn’t walk,” he said.

“I have a big blister on my right foot.” But he was still in contention, two behind Besseling, who was one over for the round at that stage.

“I said to myself, you are playing the worst golf of your career and you’re just two behind,” said Larrazbal.

“You cannot walk but you are only two behind. Let’s keep struggling and put some heart [in it].”

His fightback started with a birdie on the 11th hole, a short par four, but he dropped another shot at the par-five 13th before finishing with birdies at the par-five 15th, difficult par-three 16th and the par-five 18th, where a wedged approach to the island green left him with a short birdie putt.

Besseling was tied for the lead playing the last but an eight-iron second shot went over the green and finished in a furrow at the edge of the water. He was able to chop the ball out but finished with a six to miss a chance of a first European Tour win.

“It’s been a long road. I really struggled the last four years,” said Larrazabal, one of a minority of players who chose to wear trousers on all four days despite players being allowed to wear shorts for the first time on the Tour because of extreme heat.

“To win in paradise is so very special,” he said, referring to the course’s location on the edge of the Kruger National Park, with its sightings of African wildlife.

“I will come back until I can’t play any more.”

Former Masters champion Schwartzel, a four-time winner at Leopard Creek, finished strongly after being out of tournament action since April with a wrist injury.

He missed a relatively short eagle putt at the last hole which would have tied him at the top of the leaderboard before Larrazabal’s closing birdie.