Stewart reigns supreme at Sanlam SA Amateur

Michael Stewart claimed an emphatic 5 and 4 victory over compatriot Paul Shields to win the Sanlam South African Amateur Championship at Vaal de Grace near Parys.

With his win, Stewart became the first Scottish and ninth foreign winner of the country’s most prestigious amateur title.

The finalists and eight other members of the Scottish Mens Elite Squad have been playing the South African amateur circuit since the start of the season. After a third place finish at the Gauteng North Open, 13th at the SA Stroke Play and fourth at the Free State and Northern Cape Open, it all came together for the Scottish number two on the banks of the Vaal near Parys.

And just in time for his 21st birthday. “I’m turning 21 on Sunday, March 6 and it would have been a pretty dismal one if I hadn’t won this,” said a beaming Stewart.

Stewart was 4-up at the halfway point of the 36-hole, all-Scottish final.

Fourteen holes later, the 20-year-old from Troon won the title when Shields conceded. The Kirkhill golfer knew his fate was sealed when his par-putt from the fringe at the par-five 14th nicked flag stick and stayed out.

“I’m absolutely delighted to have won the Sanlam SA Amateur,” said Stewart. “This rates right up there with winning the Scottish Amateur last year; I can’t be prouder.

“I’ve worked hard these past weeks and it’s a relief to finally hold a trophy. At the same time, spare a thought for Paul; he played exceptional golf tee to green. He really made me work for every hole.”

And Stewart had another reason to smile.

“I just heard this gets me into the South African Open Championship; I might tee it up with Ernie Els,” he gushed. “That would be just stupendous. I’ll have to hit the gym and start beefing up straight away.”

At the start of the final round, it was Shields who drew first blood with back-to-back birdies. Stewart hit back with a birdie at the third. At the par-five fifth, the Troon Welbeck golfer lashed one from 260 meters out to within inches of the pin and squared the match with an eagle putt.

His putter caught fire on the back nine and he birdied the 13th, 14th and 17th to complete the first 18 holes in seven-under-par 65.

When the pair resumed, Shields lost the first hole of the afternoon, but bounced back a tidy birdie at the third.

Stewart got it back to 5-up but Shields reigned him in again with back-to-back birdies at the fifth and sixth holes. Birdie number four cut Stewart’s advantage to just two.

“After the first 18, he really came back at me hard,” said Stewart. “He was solid from tee to green. I was 2-up through the turn and realised I had to start making birdies if I wanted to win this thing.”

The pair halved the 10th. Shields fluffed a chip shot at the 11th, lagged his birdie-putt short of the hole and missed for par, leaving the way clear for Stewart to claim the hole to go 3-up.

The Scottish duo halved the 12th with pars.

“At the 13th, Paul hit it in the bunker off the tee,” explained Stewart, whose second shot landed 12 foot from the pin.

“He splashed it out of bunker and the ball hit a camera positioned at the back of the green. It bounced even further down the slope, but he nearly holed the chip and the pressure was on me to sink that putt. I got it in hole and I think that’s where the momentum swung back to me.”

Back to 4-up, Stewart split the fairway at the par-five 14th and got to the green in two. Meanwhile Shields, who decided to lay up, plugged his third in the greenside bunker. Hid trap shot flew well past the hole.

Shields took his cap off and walked over to shake his compatriot’s hand, conceding the hole and the match when his par-putt from fringe lipped out.

“It had been such a great match and it was tough watching a friend lose that way,” said Stewart. “I’m sure he will replay that hole again and again, but he should congratulate himself for getting to the final. That in itself no mean feat.”

Click here for the tournament website.

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