CHRISTIAAN Bezuidenhout won his first European Tour title in emphatic style with a six-shot victory at the Estrella Damm NA Andalucía Masters.
The South African came into the final day at Real Club Valderrama with a five-shot lead and while he saw that trimmed to three at one point, a closing 71 saw him finish at 10-under par, to become only the third different player to lift the trophy after Graeme McDowell (2010), and tournament host Sergio Garcia (2011, 2017, 2018).
The victory also secures Bezuidenhout a Major championship debut at The Open in two weeks’, alongside Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera and local favourite Adri Arnaus.
Bezuidenhout said: “I was relieved, it was a long day. I went through a struggle in the middle of the round, three bogeys in a row. I thought, I can’t let it slip.
“My caddie kept me in the moment nicely and the par save on the eighth hole was crucial. It just got the momentum going that I had lost a bit.
“To bounce back with three birdies in a row after that was nice and it settled the nerves a bit. To come out with a win today is special.
“My family have kept me humble throughout my career, they’ve supported me and thanks to them. I’m here because of them, it’s so special.
“It’s been a dream since I started playing golf to play in a Major championship, and to play The Open, which is my favourite Major, just makes it even more special.”
Bezuidenhout’s victory completes a remarkable rise for a player who has had to overcome adversity since a young age. At the age of two he mistakenly drank rat poison, an incident that led to him developing a stammer that caused him to suffer anxiety.
The beta blockers he took to combat his stammer led to him failing a doping test at the 2014 Amateur Championship and while his two-year ban was reduced to nine months after officials adjudged he had not been seeking to gain a competitive advantage, he missed out on representing his country at the Eisenhower Trophy.
Now five years on from those dark days, he is a European Tour winner in his 57th appearance and moves into the top 10 of the Race to Dubai rankings after two other top three finishes this season.
Spaniards Eduardo de la Riva, Alvaro Quiros and Jon Rahm finished alongside Arnaus and Lorenzo-Vera at four-under in a five-way tie for second place.
Arnaus said” “It was an honour to play two days in a row with Sergio in such as iconic place as Valderrama. Yesterday I started a bit nervous, but I calmed down after four holes and I started to enjoy it, and we got along so well.
“Today was more like being on my own, and I was able to do it on that back nine, so I’m really pleased.
“I was trying to put a score out there as low as I could, but I saw that he’s playing so well it would be tough to put a little pressure on him, so I just tried to focus on me.
“All week the place in The Open is what I came here for. It’s just an incredible feeling to come out here on home soil, play well, and get one of those spots.”
Lorenzo Vera said: “I knew that If I wanted to give myself a chance to play in The Open I needed to make par on the last, but I hooked that three-wood. I hit a good wedge, but the green was an absolute rock. I had to make that putt, I gave it a chance and I made it
“My objective at the beginning of the season was to play two Majors. I played the US PGA Championship and I absolutely needed this one, so that could be great for my mind.”
Runner-up Rahm would love to have added his name to the trophy, but admitted the pressure of playing in front of Spanish fans brought its own distractions to the job in hand of winning.
Rahm, who won the Spanish Open two years ago, revealed: “As wonderful as it is, it’s always difficult to play on home soil. It’s hard to keep my own expectations in check.
“It’s all about Christiaan today – he played a wonderful round of golf. He played an amazing tournament. Ten-under par this week in Valderrama is no joke.
“Playing in front of a home crowd increases my wanting to win the tournament. You’ve got to focus in yourself and keep it to yourself, but every time I went from the green to the tee the support was unbelievable and at the end it’s really hard to not let that through.”
Garcia finished at three-under, with Europe’s 2018 Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjørn, Belgian Thomas Detry, Gavin Green of Malaysia, German Bernd Ritthammer and Japan’s Hideto Tanihara one shot further backG
Garcia, whose foundation hosted the event again, said: “It was a very solid week. You’ve got to be realistic, I feel like I played probably the best I played all year, but I made two putts all week which didn’t help.
“Taking that into account, finishing sixth shows how well I hit the ball. That’s very positive, and that’s what I’m taking.
“It’s been a great tournament for my foundation, and it’s been fun. Every year we seem to be coming up with things to raise more money and that’s nice. Just to be able to help some people is very fulfilling and a great feeling to have.”