Higgins 11th behind emotional van der Walt
 David Higgins finished 11th in the Nelson Mandela Championship. Picture: David Lloyd /  www.golffile.ie

David Higgins finished 11th in the Nelson Mandela Championship. Picture: David Lloyd / www.golffile.ie

David Higgins finished tied for 11th in the Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS for a confidence-boosting start to the 2014 European Tour campaign.

The Waterville man, who lost his full playing rights last season, has now made two cuts out of two this term and earned €22,612 to move to 65th in the Race to Dubai. Leaderboard

Earning another €200,000 plus on limited starts is now the big challenge for the Kerryman, who completed a six under 64 in the second round of the weather-delayed event on Saturday morning before closing with a level par 70.

 Title winner Dawie van der Walt with the Nelson Mandela Championship trophy. Picture: David Lloyd /  www.golffile.ie

Title winner Dawie van der Walt with the Nelson Mandela Championship trophy. Picture: David Lloyd / www.golffile.ie

He finished on eight under par, seven shots adrift of South Africa’s Dawie van der Walt, who came from three shots behind leader Daniel Brooks to win his second European Tour title by two strokes.

Damien McGrane made the cut on the one under par limit and followed up with a 69 that left him tied for 50th with Michael Hoey, whose closing two over 72 saw him tumble 36 places down the leaderboard and earn just €4,000.

Simon Thornton missed the cut by one stroke, bringing an end a momentous year for the Bradford native who captured his maiden European Tour title at the Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open presented by Neuflize OBC at St Omer in June.

Eventual winner van der Walt admitted to feeling overwhelmed as he held his nerve down the closing stretch, closing with a 66 at Mount Edgecombe to run out a two shot winner over Matthew Baldwin and Jorge Campillo the day before Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

“It’s obviously really special, making you a part of history,” said van der Walt. “Winning The Nelson Mandela at this time, when it’s sad for everyone, everyone is mourning and tomorrow’s the big day, it means a lot and it’s something I can keep close to my heart for ever.”

Van der Walt won his first European Tour event, also on home soil, at March’s Tshwane Open, but had made only one cut since after suffering injury problems and a loss of form.

However, once he claimed the outright lead with an eagle from 30 feet at the 12th, the World Number 337 never looked like relinquishing the €158,500 winner’s cheque.

“I haven’t been in that good form, I’ve been struggling with an injury, so this is almost overwhelming,” added van der Walt, whose victory also saw him claim the co-sanctioning Sunshine Tour’s Order of Merit for 2013. To win the last event of the year is going to make Christmas a lot more fun.”

Baldwin and Campillo – who shot a stunning 59 on Friday – both finished with rounds of 68, earning the former a best-ever European Tour finish, with France’s Romain Wattel a shot further back in fourth.