Vi­jay on song as he downs Els, Price for SA Open ti­tle

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - GRANT WINTER

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.

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