Christiaan Bezuidenhout will return to the scene of his lowest moment in golf in triumph after cruising to victory in the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama.
A closing 71 gave Bezuidenhout a six-shot win on one of the toughest courses in Europe and also secured a major debut in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in three weeks’ time.
It was while competing in the British Amateur at Portrush in 2014 that Bezuidenhout failed a drugs test due to taking beta blockers, medicine he had declared he was taking to help treat anxiety and a stutter he developed after accidentally drinking rat poison aged two.
An initial two-year ban was eventually reduced to nine months and Bezuidenhout marked his return to action by winning a mini-tour event in South Africa by seven shots before going on to gain his European Tour card via the qualifying school in 2017.
The 25-year-old finished second behind compatriot Justin Harding in the Qatar Masters earlier this season and arrived in Valderrama on the back of a tie for third in the BMW International Open in Munich.
Victory looked assured after he extended his overnight lead to seven shots thanks to birdies on the first two holes, but bogeys at four of the next five saw Bezuidenhout’s lead cut to three before a hat-trick of birdies from the ninth effectively sealed the win.
Bezuidenhout, who was surprised by members of his family after holing out on the 18th, said: “It’s great. I’m proud of myself for hanging in there today after a tough stretch in the middle of my round.
“I made a great save on eight which kept the momentum on my side and bounced back with three birdies in a row there and that just settled me down nicely.
“I was still nervous, it’s a difficult course and anything can happen, especially on the last three holes, but I’m really pleased with the way I played and to finish it off is unbelievable.”
World number 11 Jon Rahm finished in a tie for second alongside fellow Spaniards Alvaro Quiros, Eduardo De La Riva and Adri Arnaus, as well as France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera, with tournament host Sergio Garcia a shot further back.
Garcia, who was seeking a fourth straight win in the event, said: “It was a very solid week and you’ve got to be realistic. I feel like I played the best I’ve played all year and made maybe two putts all week.
“I still finished seventh and that shows how well I hit the ball and that’s very positive. There’s going to be other weeks where those putts that are burning the edges are going to drop and then it will be an amazing week.”