Australia’s Marc Leishman ended a trying 2015 on a high after cruising to victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge to claim his first European Tour title and complete an Australian double.
Following compatriot Nathan Holman’s win in the Australian PGA Championship earlier in the day, Leishman carded a closing 67 at Sun City to finish 19 under par, six shots clear of Henrik Stenson.
England’s Chris Wood was a distant third on nine under with defending champion Danny Willett, Victor Dubuisson, Robert Streb and Branden Grace joint fourth on eight under.
Leishman pulled out of the Masters in April after his wife Audrey fell seriously ill with toxic shock syndrome, a rare but life-threatening bacterial infection during which she was put into an induced coma. She is now recovering but Leishman feared the worst and was prepared to give up golf to care for their two young children.
“I’m pretty happy to have this year over, to be honest,” the 32-year-old said. “Audrey got very sick and I lost an uncle who I was very close to. This tops off what was otherwise not a great year. Three weeks ago we moved into a new house, so this will help pay for that.”
Leishman began the day with a one-shot lead and found himself three ahead when he birdied the seventh and playing partner Stenson bogeyed the same hole after failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker. Stenson bounced back with a birdie from 15 feet on the eighth and both players birdied the ninth and tenth before Leishman, who lost a play-off for the Open at St Andrews in July, extended his lead thanks to a superb approach to the 13th which span back to within inches of the hole.
Leishman, who defeated world No 1 Jordan Spieth in the singles in the Presidents Cup in October, also birdied the 15th and 16th and although Stenson chipped in on the next, the result – and destination of the first prize of £825,000 – was never in doubt.
“It’s amazing. I’m so happy,” added Leishman, who could reach a career-best 26th in the world when the rankings are updated today. “It’s not very often you can walk up 18 with a good cushion and enjoy it. I knew it was going to be a really tough day, I knew I had to play well. Henrik’s an awesome player and I knew he’d make me earn it, which he did.
“I’m really pleased that I could play as well as I did and have a little bit of a buffer there at the end. Golf’s a lot easier when you don’t have to make up lost ground, especially on this golf course where there’s trouble everywhere. I was really happy to not have too many bogeys [just three all week]. I definitely found out where the trouble was in the practice round.”
Stenson was disappointed not to claim his first win in 2015, although the 39-year-old had rated his chances of simply playing in the event at just five per cent after spending three days in bed with the flu. “I’ll take it, looking at the bigger picture,” Stenson said after a closing 72. “With the chances I’ve had this year, to be winless is a little disappointing but, all in all, it’s been a solid year and I’ve got to look at the good results, the amount of world ranking points and all the rest of it. Of course I’d like to be holding the trophy, and I had a nice chance here. Marc played really solidly and shot five under on a tricky day. All credit to him for the win, he’s a deserving champion.
“I’m ready to get some rest after a long season. I’ll have knee surgery in Orlando on Wednesday and hopefully the recovery will go well and I’ll be ready for Abu Dhabi [next month].”
New European Tour member Russell Knox finished 24th. Having bounced back well from Friday’s 76 with a four-under 68 in the third round, the 30-year-old was going along nicely until he ran up a quadruple-bogey 9 at the ninth. He then birdied the tenth and 14th only to drop three shots in the last four holes for a closing 76 and a one-over total.