A hobbling Pablo Larrazabal fought back from a dismal collapse in round four of the Alfred Dunhill Championship to win his first European Tour event since June 2015.
Larrazabal’s most recent victory had come four-and-a-half years ago at the BMW International Open, yet he looked on course for a comfortable triumph this week after leading by three shots following both the second and third rounds.
That was until a blister on Sunday saw a week’s work undone in dramatic fashion, with an awful 41 on the front nine sending Larrazabal tumbling back down the leaderboard at five under.
“I woke up this morning and I didn’t think I was going to play,” he said afterwards in an emotional interview. “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. Front nine, I couldn’t walk; back nine, I said to myself, going to 10, ‘You cannot walk, you cannot swing’. I had a big blister on my right toe.”
But Larrazabal found inspiration in the exploits of the great Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open, where he triumphed with a left knee missing an anterior cruciate ligament and two stress fractures of his left tibia.
Larrazabal continued: “I said to myself, ‘If Tiger can win a U.S. Open with a broken leg, what is a blister?'”
The recovery was remarkable, as the Spaniard birdied three of the final four holes, clinching victory at Leopard Creek and avoiding a play-off against Joel Sjoholm with his putt at the last.
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“It’s been a long road,” Larrazabal said. “I’ve really struggled the past four years. But this is where I want to be.”
As well as his own guts, though, Larrazabal’s victory owed a little to the failings of his rivals, with first-round leader Wil Besseling and home hopeful Branden Grace carding respective two-over and one-over rounds to finish alongside Charl Schwartzel, another South African, in a tie for third.
Sjoholm was second and unfortunate to miss out after his own stunning turnaround, having been at even par heading into the weekend.
He followed up Saturday’s 68 with a competitive 69, but Larrazabal’s three-over 75 improbably proved enough to triumph by a single stroke at eight under.