Wedding cash boost for Neil O'Briain
Neil O'Briain. Picture: PGA in Ireland/Getty Images

Neil O'Briain. Picture: PGA in Ireland/Getty Images

Team Ireland's Neil O'Briain was smiling all the way to the bank after he clinched third place and a €23,000 payday in the Sunshine Tour's Dimension Data Pro-Am.

The Dubliner (31) has been playing pre-qualifying events and driving 1,000s of miles around South Africa as he chases his tour dream.

But recovered now from the hip and rib injuries that plagued him last year, he closed with a flawless, six-under 66 on the Montagu Course at Fancourt to finish five shots behind winner Jaco Ahlers in solo third on 15-under par.

The result is a huge one for former amateur international, who learned the game at Howth, then progressed to Royal Dublin before completing his PGA apprenticeship at Old Conna.

Up to 41st in the Sunshine Tour's Order of Merit, he knows that if he remains in the top 50 after next month's season-ending Tour Championship, he will have a chance of starts in the European Tour co-sanctioned events in South Africa next season.

"I'd have needed a freight train to catch Jaco Ahlers," said O'Briain who drove 1,200 km in a car with a faulty door alarm from last week's Eye of Africa PGA Championship to pre-qualify for the Dimension Data Pro-Am. 

"But I played nicely today and it was doubly nice because we were playing for the biggest purse on the Sunshine Tour bar the co-sanctioned events.

"That's a big help because I am getting married on 23 November and I could do the cash.

"As for that car, I want to drive it off a cliff! That beeping noise has been driving me insane."

If fiancée Andrea Finnegan was pleased to hear he'd won €23,000, O'Briain was thrilled to put an injury-hit 2017 behind him, even if he did miss out on the place in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational awarded to the winner.

"Obviously, with the stop-start nature of things recently with my injuries, it was nice to get a good result going into next week's Cape Town Open," said O'Briain, who won his first Official World Golf Ranking points and paid tribute to swing coach Chris Jelly and putting coach Donal Scott for helping him make it this far. 

"It felt like it was all slipping away with all the injuries problems I had last year. So it's nice to see it come together again now.

"This result pushes me into the top 50 in the Order of Merit, and if I can remain there, I will have Category 8 membership next year, which is as high as you can go without winning. 

"That would give me a very good chance of getting into the co-sanctioned events."

He didn’t quite manage to join an illustrious list of former Dimension Data Pro-Am winners that includes Branden Grace and major champions Darren Clarke and Louis Oosthuizen.

But he was pleased to make four birdies in his first five holes to close to within one shot of the lead, then follow another birdie at the 14th by getting up and down from 80 yards for par at the 16th before finishing with a birdie four.

He eventually finished five shots adrift of Ahlers, who carded a flawless, eight-under-par 64 to win by three shots from South African compatriot Jean-Paul Strydom on 20-under par.

O'Briain's dream is to join former amateur rivals Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy on the European Tour.

But it hasn't been easy for him so far, especially when qualified through the PGA Irish Region for the BMW PGA at Wentworth and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart but saw his performances hampered by injuries.

"I've rarely been injured and it was aggravating last year to be injured when I had chances to perform in events like Wentworth and the Irish Open.

"Hopefully that is all behind me now."

MUSCAT, OMAN - FEBRUARY 18:  Joost Luiten of the Netherlands celebrates with the winners trophy after the final round of the NBO Oman Open at Al Mouj Golf on February 18, 2018 in Muscat, Oman.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

MUSCAT, OMAN - FEBRUARY 18:  Joost Luiten of the Netherlands celebrates with the winners trophy after the final round of the NBO Oman Open at Al Mouj Golf on February 18, 2018 in Muscat, Oman.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Luiten lifts inaugural NBO Oman Open

On the European Tour, Joost Luiten claimed his sixth European Tour title at the inaugural NBO Oman Open but knows he may need two more wins if he's to make his Ryder Cup debut in September.

The Dutchman (32) lost out to Stephen Gallacher, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood in the quest for one of Paul McGinley's wildcards in 2014.

But with just eight automatic places up for grabs in Thomas Bjorn’s team, he knows he may need to finish in the winner’s circle twice more if he’s to tee it up in Paris.

“I need to win another couple I think," Luiten said after closing with a four-under 68 to win by two strokes from close friend Chris Wood, who shot 69, on 16-under par at Al Mouj Golf in Oman. 

"But it’s a great start to the year for me, this is what I was hoping for. This is what gets you right in there. I just need to play golf and then we’ll see what happens come September."

Darren Clarke, who made back to back European Tour cuts for the first time since 2016, closed with rounds of 78 and 75 to finish tied 61st on four-over par.

NBO Oman Open, Al Mouj Golf, Muscat (Par 72)

Detailed scores

272 J Luiten (Ned) 72 66 66 68, 
274 C Wood (Eng) 70 66 69 69, 
275 J Guerrier (Fra) 69 69 66 71, 
277 J Campillo (Esp) 73 70 66 68, S Han (USA) 70 69 70 68, A Levy (Fra) 71 69 67 70, 
278 F Zanotti (Par) 68 71 70 69, R Rock (Eng) 69 71 69 69, 
279 M Southgate (Eng) 65 70 69 75, S Gallacher (Sco) 74 67 68 70, B Hebert (Fra) 72 70 69 68, 
280 A Björk (Swe) 72 68 70 70, A Otaegui (Esp) 69 71 66 74, N Geyger (Chi) 72 72 67 69, A Johnston (Eng) 71 68 69 72.