Rory McIlroy. AFP PHOTO / Jim Watson
Graeme Storm of England defeated world number two Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland in a play-off Sunday to win the South African Open 83 days after losing his European Tour card.
Storm, 249 places below McIlroy in the world listings, regained the right to compete only because American Patrick Reed was sidelined for playing insufficient events last season.
“This is a dream come true. The whole experience this week has been absolutely incredible,” said Storm after his triumph at Glendower Golf Club in Johannesburg.
“I also have to thank Patrick Reed. I got my playing card back because he did not play enough events and I have embraced the second chance with both hands.”
“I am in shock,” he admitted after winning a competition first staged in 1893, and the second oldest national golf championship after the British Open.
“What can I say? This is surreal. I have just beaten a golfer who is the best in the world right now.”
Gracious loser McIlroy said: “Obviously it is disappointing to finish runner-up, but Graeme has played well all week and what a story it is for him.
“He thought he had lost his card at the end of last year and now he is standing with a trophy in his hands after the first event of this year. I am delighted for him.
“I wish I could have done a little more, but it is not a bad way to start the season and gives me something to build on in the weeks ahead.”
Storm, whose only other European Tour triumph came 10 years ago in the French Open, won with a par four at the third extra hole when McIlroy missed a seven-foot putt.
It was the third time McIlroy, who trails Australian Jason Day in the world rankings, had been involved in a European Tour play-off, and the third time he failed.
Three strokes ahead going into the final round, Storm carded a 71 while McIlroy, second overnight, fired a 68.
Storm had a let-off at the penultimate hole of the final round, which he parred, when McIlroy dropped a stroke having taken two shots to get out of a greenside bunker.
They finished on 270 — 18 under par — one stroke ahead of Englishman Jordan Smith, who closed with a 68.
The play-off was confined to the 18th and McIlroy twice survived wayward drives to salvage pars, and match the steadier Storm.
McIlroy was short and just off the green with his second shot at the third extra hole, then narrowly missed a par putt while Storm reached the green in two and two putted for victory.
Storm closed with a round of two birdies and one bogey over the 6,942-metre (7,100-yard) parkland track.
Taking anti-inflammatory tablets to ease a back pain he suffered since Thursday, McIlroy birdied five holes and bogeyed one in his final round.
It was his second South African Open appearance, eight years after missing a play-off by one shot when a virtual unknown.
Defending champion Brandon Stone of South Africa, on the back foot after an opening 74, closed with a 71 to finish 11 shots adrift of Storm and McIlroy.