By Phil Casey
An emotional Lee Westwood fought back tears after claiming his first European Tour title since 2014. It was his third victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa.
Westwood fired an eagle and six birdies in a brilliant final round of 64, at Sun City, to finish 15-under-par and three shots ahead of overnight leader, Sergio Garcia, with home favourite, Louis Oosthuizen, a shot further back, after a double bogey on the 18th.
The victory is Westwood’s 24th on the European Tour and his first on the circuit since April, 2014, although he did also win the Indonesian Masters, on the Asian Tour, in 2015.
And it vindicated the 45-year-old’s decision to rule himself out of the running to be Europe’s Ryder Cup captain in 2020, as he targets a record-equalling 11th appearance in the contest as a player, at Whistling Straits.
Ever wonder how much winning means to these guys?
This much... 😢 pic.twitter.com/Yjs27NfPOC— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 11, 2018
“I’m a bit emotional, to be honest. You’re never sure whether you’re going to be able to do it again,” said Westwood, who previously won the event in 2010 and 2011, when it was a 12-man invitational.
“Until now, my emotions have felt really under control all day, which is what I’ve been working hard on. I was just trying to hit fairways and stick to my game-plan and hit it in the right places. I’ve got a bit of a process that I’m going through with my golf swing and I’m starting to see better shots. The seven-iron into 17 is probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit.”
He added: “Still got it, I guess. Just nice to do it again, under pressure, and win against a couple of quality players at the end there.
“I can’t wait to watch the highlights, to be honest, because I hit so many good shots coming in.”
Westwood’s partner, Helen Storey, was his caddie for the week and he added: “It’s been brilliant. She’s caddied twice for me this year and we lost in a play-off in Denmark and we’ve won here. Might have to have a bit of a rethink, not least about who caddies for me, but our percentages.”
Westwood began the final round three shots behind Garcia, but made the ideal start with an eagle from three feet on the par-five second, and also birdied the eighth to reach the turn in 33.
Further birdies, on the 11th, 13th and 14th, ensured he kept pace with Oosthuizen, as the pair traded blows on the back nine, before Oosthuizen crucially three-putted the 15th from the back of the green.
Westwood seized his opportunity with both hands and birdied the 16th and 17th to leave Oosthuizen needing to eagle the last to force a play-off, but a wayward drive led to a double-bogey six to drop the former Open champion into third place.
“There’s not much more I could have done,” Oosthuizen said. “I made good putts. I missed a few easier putts, but, all in all, I attacked when I wanted to attack and I pulled a lot of good shots off.
“Hats off to Lee, the way he played today. Eight under, around that golf course, without a dropped shot, is good golf.”
Garcia had been chasing back-to-back wins and a wire-to-wire success after an opening 64, but had to settle for second place, after a closing 70.
“I didn’t have my A game, other than Thursday, obviously, but I fought hard,” Garcia said. “I’m thrilled for Lee. He had a bad Ryder Cup at Hazeltine (in 2016) and he struggled a little bit, but he’s been playing much better this year.
“He’s been knocking on the door for winning. I wish I would have won myself, but, if not, obviously to see Lee do it is pretty nice.”