It was a tale of two birdies for JC Ritchie on Sunday as he birdied the 18th hole twice at Royal Cape Golf Cub to win the Bain’s Whisky Cape Town Open on the first play-off hole to win his eighth Sunshine Tour title.
It was also his first Challenge Tour title in the event co-sanctioned by the European Tour’s second tier, as he defeated the man who led throughout, Jacques Blaauw with a superbly taken birdie on the 18th in the play-off.
That was after he made a clutch birdie in regulation play in the final hole to get himself into the play-off.
"After the first nine in my first round, it’s almost difficult to believe I’ve won," said Ritchie afterwards.
He made three bogeys in his first four holes, and turned in two-over-par.
"I told Jaco (Prinsloo) to push me and push me as hard as he could, just to give me some momentum."
His good friend Prinsloo has won twice on the Sunshine Tour already this season.
And while there were bogeys in each of his following three rounds, he certainly found some momentum.
He made six birdies up to the 16th hole in the final round without dropping a shot and getting himself into a share of the lead with Blaauw and Sweden’s Mikael Lindberg.
But a bogey from a poor tee shot on the 17th seemed to set him back, and, with Luke Jerling in the clubhouse on 13-under, it seemed a share of second might be his lot.
But a perfectly executed tee shot, and equally good approach and a nerveless birdie putt on 18 saw him transfer the pressure onto Blaauw as Lindberg was unable to birdie the last after he too bogeyed 17.
And, as much as Ritchie’s win was a tale of two birdies, Blaauw’s runner-up spot was a tale of two missed birdie putts.
In regulation and in the play-off, his putts were very similar in distance, direction, and outcome.
On both occasions, he pushed 15-footers fractionally right to prevent him from winning what would have been his sixth Sunshine Tour title and his first since September 2016.
Ritchie didn’t watch as Blaauw tried to win in regulation.
"I was on the putting green getting ready," he said.
"But I had a feeling that there was going to be a play-off."
Behind them, joining Jerling and Lindberg on 13-under in a share of third was Scot Ewen Ferguson, who carded a closing five-under-par 67 to round out the top five.
For Ritchie, the quality of his play in the final round – he navigated the tight layout at Royal Cape skilfully, approaching the greens accurately and producing his best putting display of the week – was further fuel to his ferocious fire to perform on bigger international stages.
"To come out on top today just feels unreal," he said.
"I wasn’t expecting it at the start of the week. I felt like things weren’t really in place yet to win. It shows you how this game turns in just a day!"