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Storm holds off McIlroy for SA Open title

15 Jan 2017

2017 BMW SA Open hosted by Ekurhuleni champion Graeme Storm with South African Golf Association president Geoff Taylor; credit Ernest Blignault.

It has been 10 years since he tasted success as a professional golfer, and Graeme Storm made his second victory as memorable as can be as he defeated world number two Rory McIlroy on the third play-off hole on Sunday in the BMW SA Open proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni.

The pair was deadlocked on 18-under-par 270 after 72 holes of regulation play, and Storm managed to take advantage of a wayward McIlroy drive on the third extra trip up the 18th at Glendower Golf Club, making par while the Northern Irishman was unable to get up and down to lengthen the play-off.

“It feels surreal,” said Storm many times in the wake of his victory. “I had a great battle out there with Rory. I knew what was going to be coming my way. I knew he’d get off to a pretty quick start, and I didn’t play my best golf all day. I just tried to hang in as best I could, but to win this trophy and get my name on it is just a dream come true.”

He started the day with a three-stroke advantage over McIlroy, but, as he expected, the four-time major winner got out of the blocks fast with two birdies in the first two holes to close the gap to one. Storm hit back with a birdie of his own on three, but then came the inexorable pressure of McIlroy pressing for victory.

And it looked to be signed and sealed as McIlroy birdied 13, Storm bogeyed 14 and the pair traded birdies on 16. Pars on 16, and it seemed that McIlroy would romp home, ahead by one with two to play.

But an errant tee-shot from McIlroy on 17 saw him with a horrible lie in the greenside bunker on the par-three. The resultant bogey – and Storm’s calm par, saw matters level going up 18.

“It was more difficult playing the 72nd hole than the play-off holes,” said Storm. “In the play-off, I knew what was going to come my way. He was going to hit driver and blast his way up there, as he can and I can’t. I just had to stick to my game plan and hope it goes my way. It looked like I just kept it in the same position, and that’s what I was trying to do.”

By the time the third play-off hole came around, Storm’s consistency was enough: McIlory pushed his drive far enough right so that a tree branch hindered his swing enough for him to come up short and left of the green. Storm’s birdie putt grazed the hole, McIlroy’s chip was five feet past the hole, and, when he missed his return putt, Storms tap-in par had proved enough.

“It was a shame for Rory that he missed his, and a relief for me,” said Storm. “I would have much preferred to have holed the putt, and I’m sure Rory probably thinks the same.”

McIlroy couldn’t have been more gracious in defeat. “Obviously it’s disappointing to finish like that but Graeme has played well all week and what a story it for him,” he said. “He thought he had lost his card at the end of last year and there he is now standing with a trophy in his hands after the first event of 2017. I’m delighted for him.”

Behind that duo, England’s Jordan Smith carded his third consecutive 68 to finish in third, while Dean Burmester birdied the 18th to jump ahead of fellow-South Africans Trevor Fisher Jnr and Thomas Aiken to finish in fourth, the leading South African.

Written and released by Mike Green / Sunshine Tour

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