Jean Hugo celebrates his win. Photo: @Sunshine_Tour on twitter

WILD COAST – His margin of victory was eventually four strokes, but Jean Hugo was hanging on for dear life as he won the Wild Coast Sun Challenge on Friday at the Wild Coast Sun Country Club.

It was the 19th Sunshine Tour title for the 43-year-old, but his last in 2015 seemed a long way off as he fought to maintain the five-shot lead he started the day with, as Clinton Grobler, Hennie du Plessis and Ruan de Smidt did their best to chase him down while he carded a four-over-par 74.

“I wasn’t sure if you’d given me 74 at the beginning of the day that I would have taken it,” said Hugo. “I could have played better today, but it’s a step in the right direction for me. The way I played the last four or five holes, it was great. It was probably the toughest stretch we’ll get this year.”

It was made tough but the inevitable challenge of playing golf at the coast: A wind that made scoring very difficult on a day on which three-under 67 was the best score.

“It was a pretty brutal day,” said Hugo. “It was the first time we got the wind from this direction this week and it was quite heavy. To start out, it was very tough to judge how strong it was and I knew that for a few holes on the front nine it was going to be very testing. It did catch us and even the downwind holes weren’t that easy, and putting becomes very difficult with this wind.”

A bogey on his first hole would have dented his confidence, and two more by the time he reached the sixth would have reminded him that he had five missed cuts this season, and just one top-10 finish – an anomaly in a glittering career.

But his experience made him grit his teeth and battle on.

“I tried not to look at what was going on with the people around me,” he said. “If I was playing great, I wouldn’t have had a look because I would have been far ahead. I had a look at 12, and I still had a three or four-shot lead.

“Then Ruan had a few birdies coming in, so it was between myself and him. A two-shot lead playing the last hole is never enough for this course.”

That a small lead is not enough was clearly demonstrated when De Smidt made a double-bogey six on the last, after birdieing the 17th to slip back into a three-way share of second instead of second on his own.

Grobler closed with a great 68 to get a little closer to the top of the Rookie of the Year race, and Hennie du Plessis sealed a satisfying return from injury with a 68 of his own.

Titch Moore, Estiaan Conradie, Luke Jerling and Jaco Ahlers shared fifth a further shot back at six-under for the tournament, while Neil Schietekat, Jonathan Agren of Sweden, Jacques Blaauw and Merrick Bremner rounded out the top-10.

For Hugo, who edges closer to John Bland’s 21 Sunshine Tour victories in fifth place on the list of most wins, this was as good as it has ever been for him in his career. “This feels just as special as the first one,” he said. “I’ll remember this for a long time. It was the first one for a long while, and it was the toughest, actually.

“I’ll just take my career as it comes from now. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself for the last three or four years to keeping adding to the trophy cabinet. If I was off my game today, I could easily have lost it.

“If you give yourself a challenge and you pull it off, it’s quite satisfying.”

Jean Hugo in action. Photo: Sunshine Tour

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Scores:

199 - Jean Hugo 60 65 74

203 - Clinton Grobler 68 67 68, Hennie du Plessis 64 71 68, Ruan de Smidt 65 65 73

204 - Titch Moore 68 69 67, Estiaan Conradie 68 67 69, Luke Jerling 67 66 71, Jaco Ahlers 63 69 72

205 - Neil Schietekat 65 73 67, Jonathan Agren 69 69 67, Jacques Blaauw 67 71 67, Merrick Bremner 68 68 69

206 - Louis Albertse 69 68 69

207 - Jean-Paul Strydom 71 69 67, Divan van den Heever 67 71 69, Keenan Davidse 68 68 71

208 - Hennie Otto 70 70 68, Oliver Bekker 69 70 69, Scott Campbell 68 70 70, Anton Haig 71 67 70, Ruan Conradie 70 64 74

209 - Ruan Korb 69 71 69, CJ du Plessis 67 69 73, Chris Cannon 67 67 75

210 - Teaghan Gauche 65 75 70, Roberto Lupini 65 74 71

211 - Colin Nel 71 69 71, Deon Germishuys 71 69 71, Matthew Rushton 68 72 71, Theunis Bezuidenhout 69 71 71, Juran Dreyer 71 69 71, Christiaan Basson 68 71 72, Martin Rohwer 69 70 72, Callum Mowat 61 76 74, Jaco Prinsloo 68 67 76

212 - Chris Swanepoel 67 70 75

213 - Toto Thimba 69 70 74, Doug McGuigan 70 68 75

214 - Michael Palmer 69 70 75, Dylan Naidoo 66 73 75, JC Ritchie 65 71 78, Dayne Moore 68 67 79

215 - Jared Harvey 73 67 75

217 - Franklin Manchest 64 74 79

218 - Andre De Decker 71 69 78 

African News Agency (ANA)