Vijay on song as he downs Els, Price for SA Open title
TWENTY years ago almost to the day, Vijay Singh won the South African Open at Glendower – where this year’s tournament starts on Thursday.
And the big, tall Fijian golfer of Indian ancestry whose name means “victory: in Hindi, used a borrowed driver to hold off a determined challenge from Nick Price.
Singh, who earned R529 300 for his 20th worldwide victory, cracked his own driver on the range five minutes before he was due to tee off in the first round on the Thursday.
“My spare driver was back at the hotel, but fortunately I had a Great Big Bertha lent to me by fellow pro Bruce Vaughan in my bag,” he said.
“I’d been trying it out the previous day and forgotten I still had it with me. I didn’t have much option but to use it in the first round, but it worked so well that I used it all week.”
The 33-year-old would shoot 69, 66, 66 and 69 on the pristine, demanding layout for an 18-under 270 total, his final round compiled in a dream three-ball which also contained Price and Ernie Els. Price would finish second on 271 with Els, Mark McNulty and Fulton Allen sharing third on 275, as the big-hitting Fijian got the better of the cream of southern Africa’s golfers.
Following the third round, when he led by two from Price, Singh was asked if he was looking for revenge against Els who had beaten him 3 and 2 in the final of the World Match Play at Wentworth three months earlier. “No,” was Singh’s blunt reply, “That was last year. This is a new year and a new tournament.”
Singh employed a local caddie, Isaac Zwane of the Glendower club, for the championship and paid tribute to the 51-year-old who at that stage had already been lugging bags on tour for 33 years.
“Isaac was with me when I last won in South Africa in the Bell’s Cup in Cape Town in 1993 and he keeps me calm and was a great help,” the winner said after lifting the trophy, with Zwane later confirming he would get 10 percent of Singh’s first place cheque – about R53 000.
Zimbabwe’s hugely popular Price shot a day’s best 65 in the third round and said he gained inspiration from his national cricket team’s nail-biting win over India at Centurion the previous evening. “I was there and I nearly shouted myself hoarse,” he chuckled.
The 1997 SA Open at Glendower formed part of the European Tour as have the last three editions of the championship at the club, won respectively by Denmark’s Morten Orum Madsen, England’s Andy Sullivan and, 12 months ago, South Africa’s young star Brandon Stone who at 21 earned his maiden European Tour victory before adding the Alfred Dunhill Championship crown to his CV at Leopard Creek last month.