Ritchie holds on for Sun Carnival City victory
Cape Town - When JC Ritchie made birdie on the 18th, it was enough for a tense one-stroke victory in the R800 000 Sun Carnival City Challenge at Ebotse Links.
He carded a final-round level-par 72 to edge clear of what was looking like a three-way tie between himself, Toto Thimba and Alex Haindl.
That final birdie was too much for Thimba, his playing partner, who had mounted a late charge with three birdies in the final six holes.
"Today was very stressful," said a relieved Ritchie after winning his second Sunshine Tour title after his maiden win in last year's Zimbabwe Open.
"It started off a lot calmer than I thought it would be, when I was two-under after eight holes, and then I just managed to keep it together after that."
When he reached the ninth tee, he was five clear of the nearest opposition, and it seemed he would romp home. But a double-bogey six on the ninth saw the first signs of a crack in his serene façade, and Timba, Haindl, Pieter Moolman and Michael Palmer were all poised to take advantage should he have slipped further.
When Ritchie made birdie on 12, equilibrium seemed to have been restored, but bogeys on 14 and 16 soon brought all the pressure back.
"Toto was playing brilliant golf today, but he just wasn't making putts," said Ritchie.
"But when he made birdie on 17, that really put the pressure on. When I holed my putt on 18, that was just brilliant for me, because I had a feeling that Toto would miss his birdie putt."
It was a tough putt for Ritchie - possibly much tougher than Thimba's little nine-footer which slid away downhill and right.
"Even Stanley my caddie came into help," laughed Ritchie. "I told him all I could do was try and feel it. It was downwind, down off the slope from the right - everything was just running away from me. I can't tell you where I hit it - I just know it went in the middle."
Thimba is still looking for his first Sunshine Tour win, and this was oh so close, suggesting his time is near.
His second round in tough conditions catapulted him into contention, and then he rode out a succession of 11 birdies and a bogey before he was able to mount his charge. Had he found some birdies earlier, he could have been the one holding the trophy.
For Ritchie, it was experience in losing which he felt helped him deal with the pressure, rather than memories of his victory.
"I think I learnt more from this year's Zimbabwe Open, where I wasn't able to defend my title," he said. "I was able to keep things together under pressure, just to control my emotions, to control what I was doing, keeping the ball in play, and trying to finish."