Tree trouble for Craig Lee as Brandon Stone wins SA Open

Brandon Stone, right, stands alongside tournament host Ernie Els after his BMW SA Open victory. Picture: Getty Images
Brandon Stone, right, stands alongside tournament host Ernie Els after his BMW SA Open victory. Picture: Getty Images
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A spot of tree trouble denied Craig Lee a top-10 finish as Brandon Stone confirmed why he’s been tipped to join South Africa’s major winners after claiming his home Open at just 22. Lee closed with a 74 to finish joint-21st on four-under 284 at Glendower Golf Club in Johannesburg, where Stone recovered from surrendering a five-shot lead to win the BMW SA Open.

It was a respectable start to 2016 for the Scot, but he was left to rue a costly quadruple-bogey 8 at the seventh in the closing circuit as it undid some good work either side of that in the shape of six birdies. “I had a little tree trouble,” Lee told The Scotsman. “They’re not 
90 per cent air here, as I discovered after driving into them. I saw a shot but not an over-hanging branch on another tree, hit it and my ball bounced further into trouble.”

After chipping out this time, the 38-year-old Stirling man then saw his approach with a wedge spin off the green before three-putting from just six feet after being too bold with the first attempt then missing the return.

“I also had two balls in the water today and, while I loads of good golf over the four days, I also had a lot of poor stuff,” added Lee, who will be hoping to eradicate the latter in this week’s Joburg Open. The former Tartan Tour player finished a shot ahead of compatriot David Drysdale after the Cockburnspath path man signed off with a 69 that was a classic tale of two halves.

Starting at the tenth, Drysdale reeled off four birdies in a row before picking up 
further shots at the 15th and 18th to turn in 30, six-under. “I’d actually shot 28 for nine holes in a bounce game last Sunday, but this is the first 30 I’ve had in a while in a tournament,” said the 40-year-old afterwards. Unfortunately, the birdies dried up on his second nine, where bogeys at the third, fourth and ninth undid some of that earlier good work.

“I didn’t play well on Friday, so was lucky to make the cut,” said Drysdale of the 76 that had followed a promising first-round 69. “That was down to being rusty after 
five weeks off, though, and there were certainly lots of positive signs on my front nine today. My putting is feeling good, but it’s back to the grind tomorrow, when I’m spending the day on the range with my coach, Jamie Gough, ahead of the Joburg Open.”

Also staying on for the second-leg of the South African double-header before the European Tour starts its Desert Swing is Jamie McLeary, who finished joint-38th on one-under 287 after a closing 73.

Just under four years ago, Stone suffered a one-hole defeat at the hands of Aberdour’s Scott Crichton as Scotland beat South Africa in a two-day Test match at Leopard Creek. That was a rare disappointment in a glitterting amateur career, however, and he was almost speechless after firing a closing 71 for a 14-under total, two ahead of compatriot Christian Bezuidenhout, with England’s Daniel Brooks a shot behind in third.

“I don’t have the vocab to describe how I feel right now,” said Stone, whp played college golf at the University of Texas alongside world No 1 Jordan Spieth. After play was disrupted by afternoon thunderstorms for the first three days, Stone completed a third round of 65 on Sunday to take a two-shot lead which he swiftly extended with birdies on the second and fourth. However, Stone then carded a hat-trick of bogeys from the fifth, dropped two more shots in the next four holes before recovering to cover the last seven in four-under-par.

“That round was the most up-and-down round that I’ve ever had in my life, without a doubt,” he admitted before being presented with the trophy by tournament host Ernie Els. “Walking up to the 18th made me think about how the last few years have been. They’ve been up and down and up and down and just to pull it through at the end there, I can’t describe it.”

Els, meanwhile, has secured a late invitation for the Joburg Open as he bids to bounce back from the bout of yips that contributed to him missing the cut in the SA Open. “I’m really excited to get the putting working well in tournament play again,” said Els, who will be joining both Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in next week’s HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi.