Bob MacIntyre is back in the driving seat in his bid to become the first Scot since Marc Warren in 2006 to be crowned as European Tour Rookie of the Year after finishing with a flourish in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa.
A week after being leapfrogged by American Kurt Kitayama in the Race to Dubai standings, the 23-year-old from Oban regained the upper hand by carding brilliant closing rounds of 65 and 68 at Gary Player Country Club in Sun City.
The 11-under-par salvo on one of the toughest courses on the European Tour earned him a share of eighth spot in the $7.5 million Rolex Series event, which was won by Tommy Fleetwood after the Englishman beat Swede Marcus Kinhult in a play-off.
“It was good,” said MacIntyre, of his weekend’s work, having been well down the field after finishing his second round with a quadruple-bogey 9 before surging up the leaderboard with a burst of eight birdies in 14 holes on Saturday.
Keeping his foot on the pedal in the closing circuit, the left-hander birdied the first and fourth before holing out from the fairway for an eagle-2 at the sixth then adding two more birdies at the tenth and 13th.
Despite dropped shots back-to-back at the 16th and 17th, he chalked up his seventh top-10 finish of the season, climbing one spot to 12th, one above Kitayama, in the Race to Dubai rankings.
“Overall, I’m delighted with the way I finished,” added MacIntyre, who finished with a six-under-par 282 total. “After the Friday, I thought ‘oh no we are struggling here’, but I worked on a few things on the range and they seem to be working.
“Winning Rookie of the Year would mean everything. That’s what you play golf for – the rewards. The reward of Rookie of the Year would be unbelievable. I’ve got another week to go, but, with the game having turned from Friday, we are in good shape going into next week.”
As is Fleetwood, who jumped eight spots into second behind Austrian Bernd Wiseberger in the battle to be European No 1 after producing a sensational last-day performance to land a $2.5m first prize.
Six shots off the lead at the start of the day, Fleetwood carded three eagles, including a “lucky” one after his ball hit a sprinkler head at the 15th, as he signed off with a best-of-the-day 65 to finish on 12-under.
That was matched by Kinhult, who won the British Masters when it was hosted by Fleetwood at Hillside earlier in the season, as he closed with a 68, but the victory went to the Englishman after he produced a brilliant up and down to make a par at the first extra hole.
“It is really cool when you win a tournament,” said Fleetwood as he savoured his fifth European Tour title but first success in 22 months. “I made a great up and down at the first hole and then again at the third and the day could have been completely different without them.”
Wiesberger, who was in the mix for a fourth win of the season before having to settle for a share of third place, now has Fleetwood, the 2017 winner, leading the chase in the Race to Dubai title battle heading into next week’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
“It is an absolute privilege to go into the last event with a chance to win the Race to Dubai, which is one of the things I am most proud of in my career,” he added. “I am happy to have that challenge and feel ready for it.”
MacIntyre will be the sole Scot in the 50-man field in Dubai, where the biggest prize in golf of $3m will be up for grabs, after Richie Ramsay and Scott Jamieson both saw their season end in South Africa.
Ramsay, who closed with a 72 to end up joint-42nd on four-over, missed out on taking his campaign the full distance by eight spots, with Jamieson slipping six places to 71st after a closing 77 left him in a share of 44th on five-over.