Darren Clarke survived a dramatic final hole in which his approach landed in the water, and emerged with his first victory of the year in the Dimension Data Pro-Am at the Gary Player Country Club course on Sunday.
Clarke carded a 71 in the final round for a two-shot victory at 14-under par 274. Retief Goosen and Tjaart van der Walt shared second place on 12-under with respective rounds of 69 and 66. But Clarke flirted with disaster at the last, walking off with a six at the par-five.
The Irishman enjoyed a three-stroke lead standing on the 18th fairway, with his first victory of the year seemingly beyond question. After deciding to lay up with a nine-iron, Clarke's sand wedge approach was played from a downhill lie and went straight into the water guarding the final green.
Goosen had already found the green in two and was in with a distinct chance for birdie. But the South African failed to take advantage, instead three-putting from the fringe for a tame par as Clarke rolled in a 10-footer for his bogey.
"That was probably the best six I've ever made," a relieved Clarke said afterwards. "It definitely wasn't what I had in mind. My lay-up finished on a down slope and I knew the wedge approach was going to come out low. But it came out a bit lower than I expected."
It was the third mistake of Clarke's round following costly drops going into the turn that eroded his once five-stroke lead. Clarke was at 17-under par after three successive birdies from the fifth to the seventh holes, and looked to be headed for a comfortable victory.
But he followed a drop at the eighth with a double bogey at the difficult par-four ninth. The European number two found the greenside bunker with his approach at the ninth, and needed two shots to get out.
Clarke then two-putted from three feet to slip to 14-under par and only two shots clear of Goosen. "I made a bad swing for the bogey at eight. But at the ninth, I hit what I thought was a perfect high and soft seven-iron. But it plugged in the greenside bunker.
"Standing on the 10th tee, I knew the tournament had gone from being firmly in my own hands to now within everybody else's grasp as well." Goosen was Clarke's nearest challenger all day, but was surprisingly inept at taking advantage of any of the Irishman's errors.
This is the second year running that Clarke has won a tournament a week after missing a cut, which he did in last week's South African Open. Last year, he missed the cut in the LA Open before beating world number one Tiger Woods in the World Match Play Championship a week later.
This victory is also the start of what could end in a lucrative win bonus for Clarke. His sponsor, Dimension Data, has agreed to pay Clarke $1-million if he wins four tournaments this year. Clarke also aims to break into the top five on the world rankings this year after finishing ninth last year.