By Lali Stander of GolfRSA
Oliver Gillberg broke the tournament record by five shots (GolfRSA photo)
HARTBEESPOORTDAM, SOUTH AFRICA (February 9, 2018) - An international breakthrough. A new 72-hole record. An unforgettable week in South Africa for Oliver Gillberg.
The Swede began with a 10-foot birdie putt and he tapped in for par at the final hole to record the lowest 72-hole score in the 49-year history of the South African Stroke Play Championship next to his name in the record books.
A winning total of 27-under-par 261 saw Gillberg surpass the previous record set by Richard Sterne at Oppenheimer Park in 2001 by five strokes.
His final act was a fist-pump before he flashed the biggest smile imaginable to the appreciative crowd surrounding the final green at Pecanwood Golf and Country Estate.
“It’s been an unbelievable week; unforgettable,” Gillberg said, reading the names of the previous champions on the trophy’s base. “This is definitely the best week of my life.”
Over 72 holes, the 23-year-old from Karsta gave the spectators numerous glimpses of his future potential with a game that was at times overpowering, but always efficient.
He opened with a 67, took command with a flawless 62 in the second round and kept the chasing pack at bay with a third round 64.
Related: Gillberg moves into 54-hole South African Stroke Play Lead
Over the last 36 holes, Gillberg never wavered, irrespective of what big-hitting South Africans Matt Saulez and Wilco Nienaber threw at him.
“I was two shots clear of Matt and four ahead of Wilco, so I felt pretty confident, but those guys were relentless,” said Gillberg.
“They just kept coming at me, putting pressure all the time. I stayed in my own head, played my own game. Like when they drove it 30 metres past me, I stuck with my strategy, because my irons were really good all week.”
Gillberg erased a bogey at the third with a birdie-eagle-birdie combination from four.
He turned three under with a three-shot cushion, but Saulez chipped in for eagle at 10 to shorten the gap. Gillberg responded with a birdie at 10, reeled in two more gains at 11 and 12 to put some space back between him and the KwaZulu-Natal golfer.
Then disaster struck at the par-four 14th and, with four holes to play, Saulez had an open door.
“I was in the fairway at 14, but I was between clubs,” he explained. “I hit a pitching wedge a little loose and it came out really bad. It was too low and the ball hit the bank and spun back into the water.
“I hit it from the rough in the water hazard, but I only moved it about 20 centimetres. Then I chipped it too long and missed the putt.”
Saulez missed his chance when he left a 12-footer for birdie short at 15, but he made a great birdie at 16 to cut the deficit to just one shot.
“I won’t lie; my hands were sweating,” said Gillberg. “I used all the experience from the Nordea Masters and European Tour Qualifying School to stay calm. I made good pars at 16 and 17. I knew I could win it when we went down 18.”
Saulez pitched it past the hole and he had a 12-footer left for birdie. His effort skimmed the hole and that Gillberg, pin-high right, with two putts from 10 feet to seal the win.
“I birdied 18 on the first round, but every round after the birdie putt wouldn’t drop. It stopped an inch from the hole in round two and ran around the cup in round three. I looked at the putt; I looked at the hole and I just pushed it close. It stopped, again, on the edge of the hole. But par was good enough.”
Saulez closed with a 67 to finish second and Nienaber took route 66 to third on 25-under.
Neal Woernhard fired the low round of the day – a nine-under-par 63 – that boosted the Swiss amateur to fourth on 19-under. South African duo Louis Albertse and James du Preez closed out the top five with Sam Locke from Scotland on 18-under 270.
ABOUT THE South African Stroke Play
The premier amateur stroke play event in South
Africa, with a field comprised of the best South African
amateurs and a strong contingent of Europeans. 72
hole stroke play championship with a
cut after 36 holes.
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