The Alfred Dunhill Championship was Pablo Larrazabal’s to lose overnight, and, hobbled by a painful blister, was in the process of doing so when he took a cue from Tiger Woods and limped to his first victory in more than four years.
The 36-year-old Spaniard had a three-stroke lead through 54 holes at Leopard Creek Country Club in Malelane, South Africa, when “a big blister on my right toe”, he said, threatened to derail him in the final round.
He went out in six-over 41, then clawed his way back into contention and birdied three of the final four holes for his fifth European Tour victory.
“I woke up this morning and I didn’t think I was going to play,” he said. “I couldn’t put my shoe on. I couldn’t walk to the buggy. I couldn’t go to the putting green. I really struggled today. The front nine I couldn’t walk. I said to myself, You cannot walk, you cannot swing. I couldn’t follow through. I said to myself, If Tiger can win a US Open with a broken leg [in 2008], what’s a blister?
“I said to myself, You play the worst golf of your career and you’re just two behind. Keep struggling, put some heart on. I put some heart on the back nine.”
Larrazabal rejoined the mix by holing a 20-foot birdie putt at the 16th to tie Wil Besseling and Joel Sjoholm for the lead. Sjoholm, playing ahead of Larrazabal, parred the par-5 18th hole to finish at seven-under par 281.
Besseling, attempting to reach the 18th green in two from the rough, landed his ball on the green, but it rolled over and settled on the rock wall behind the green, just short of the water. From an exceedingly difficult lie, using a putter, he got the ball back on grass, then was unable to get up and down for par.
Larrazabal, meanwhile, laid up with his second, then hit a brilliant third to three feet from the hole. He holed the birdie putt to conclude an improbable back nine of three-under 34 for a three-over 75 to win the European Tour’s 2020 season opener by a stroke.
“Unbelievable, the way I won it,” he said. “It’s been a long road. I’ve really struggled the past few years. I’ve been working so hard.”