Jamie McLeary secured one of the biggest cheques of his career with a first-ever top-ten European Tour finish in the Tshwane Open, won by an impressive eight shots by pre-tournament favourite Charl Schwartzel.
Former Masters champion Schwartzel had taken a one-shot cushion in the final round at Pretoria Country Club but coasted to his 11th European Tour title and eighth on home soil by carding a closing 63 to finish on 16-under-par.
There’s a big part of me feels really disappointed with the shots I threw away because I could have been right up thereJamie Mcleary
Six behind Schwartzel at the start of the day, McLeary got within three shots at one point after picking up three birdies in a row from the sixth to get to six-under for the tournament. His outside hopes of a maiden European Tour victory were then dashed by two double-bogey 6s in the space of four holes at the start of the back nine, the latter being sandwiched by a brace of birdies.
However, a closing 69 for a four-under-par 276 total gave the 34-year-old Scot a share of seventh spot – his first top ten in 62 starts on the top circuit stretching back to his debut as an amateur in the 2004 Scottish Open at Loch Lomond. His cheque for €26,059 (£20,222) was more than McLeary won in his first 19 events two years ago, when he lost his card after finishing 152nd in the Race to Dubai before regaining it this season as a Challenge Tour graduate.
The pay-day was his biggest on the European Tour, though he picked up €32,000 for winning the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore in 2009 and €29,425 for his runner-up finish in the 2013 Challenge Tour Grand Final.
“I’m happy with the week overall, but I still look back at it with a ‘what if?’ feeling as I dropped far too many shots,” confessed McLeary after finishing 12 strokes behind the winner. “There’s a big part of me feels really disappointed with the shots I threw away because I could have been right up there challenging Charl. Hopefully I get another chance soon and I take it this time.”
The Bonnyrigg-based player, who is attached to Marriott Dalmahoy, had been hoping to finish in the top five as that would have got him into this week’s Maybank Championship in Malaysia but fell short by a single shot. It means McLeary will stay on in South Africa instead for the Sunshine Tour’s Dimension Data Pro-Am starting at Fancourt on Thursday. “I don’t feel like I’m hitting top gear yet but the putter is a lot better and, with driving being good now, I’m really excited for what 2016 brings,” he added. Schwartzel’s closing salvo contained an eagle and seven birdies as the 31-year-old cruised to victory ahead of Jeff Winther after the Dane closed with a 64 to finish two shots ahead of third-placed Anthony Michael (70).
“It was fantastic,” said Schwartzel as he savoured adding to his Alfred Dunhill Championship success at Leopard Creek in the opening event of the 2016 schedule in November. “I played really well the whole week. I thought today was a bit iffy at stages but the difference today was I putted really well. The first three days I was as blind as a bat. The last day I was eagle eyes. I couldn’t miss.” Schwartzel put that change down to working with visual skills coach Dr Sherylle Calder, who has previously had success with Ernie Els and the South African rugby team. “I spent a lot of hours on the putting green the last few days and working with Sherylle last night we definitely found something,” he added. “When you’re playing badly you start doubting yourself but today I was a lot better, I trusted myself more and my eye-line was a lot better so I started the ball on line.”
David Law, the last man into the event, finished joint 29th after a closing 71, his two-over total being matched by Andrew McArthur (70). Scott Henry ended up tied for 49th on five-over after a closing 71.