He kept it light-hearted in typical Doug McGuigan fashion, but you could tell how much it meant to him when he celebrated the winning putt on Sunday on the R2-million ISPS Handa South African Match Play Championship.
“This is the biggest win of my career,” said the 42-year-old of the R300,000 cheque that came his way after he defeated Jaco Ahlers 1-up over the 6,442-metre Zwartkop Country Club.
It might not have matched the R424,000 he won when he came second in the 2003 Dunhill Championship, but the win sends him off to try his hand in the second stage of the European Tour’s Qualifying School next week in great shape.
It also vaulted him into the top 10 on the Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit in seventh place, setting him up nicely for a tilt at a good finish to the year ahead of the lucrative summer swing.
“I’ve won five times in my career,” he said, “but to beat these guys one-on-one like this is a very satisfying personal achievement. And to win at this age – although there have been guys who have won at this age – well, I’m hoping I’m one of those guys who peak after 40.”
He got himself on the board early when Ahlers pushed his tee-shot right into the Hennops River on the second, and he was 1-up after two.
But Ahlers gathered himself, and his short-iron play – despite some admonishments to himself about it – started to become more and more accurate.
He made that accuracy pay with birdies on five and seven to wrest the lead from McGuigan, but his putting when he put himself within birdie range was not as secure as he would have liked, and that short-iron accuracy also began to desert him.
After four halved holes, McGuigan struck on the short 12th with a birdie to draw level. “That 12th has been difficult for me all week,” he said. “I think it was the first time I hit the green this week, but the putt, although it was only five or six feet, had a foot of break in it – I still had to make that, but it was definitely a momentum changer.
And then he rammed home the advantage of the momentum swing with a birdie on the 16th after Ahlers had pulled his second left of the green. Although Ahlers made a good fist of it with his chip for eagle, he rolled it six feet past; McGuigan cosied his eagle putt close and went 1-up.
“At that point the adrenaline was pumping, and I thought I’d messed up my tee-shot on 17,” he said. “I was flirting with the water, but I managed to clear it, and make the par I needed to stay ahead.
“And then on 18, I hit a big drive – I’m not normally that long, and it left me with a nice five-iron in,” he added.
Ahlers, however, wasn’t done: His drive had gone right into the rough, and he pulled his approach left behind a greenside bunker. Undeterred, he launched a Phil Mickelson-like flop shot and it barely grazed the hole and rolled just a metre past.
McGuigan had two putts for the half and the win from fringe. “It was probably the longest 35 or 40-footer I’ve had to hit,” he said. “When it was about 10 feet from the hole, I knew it was going to be dead.”
In the match for third, Merrick Bremner defeated PH McIntyre 6&5. “It would have been good to make the final, but today was nice – it was a convincing win. I made a few birdies when it counted and didn’t drop a shot today,” said Bremner.