O'Briain withdraws in South Africa
Neil O'Briain

Neil O'Briain

Team Ireland's Neil O'Briain withdrew on Saturday morning from the Sunshine Tour's season-ending Tour Championship with a recurrence of his hip and back injury.

The Dubliner (31) is devastated not to have a chance to play on and potentially seal the Bobby Locke Award for the Rookie of the Year.

But even if he is pipped at the post by American Zack Byrd, who needs a top 12 finish to overtake him, O'Briain is looking forward to the season with optimism after clinching a top-50 finish on the Sunshine Tour money list and starts in four of the five European Tour co-sanctioned events next term.

"It would be a nice feather in my cap if I could win the Rookie of the Year Award but to be honest, it wasn’t even on my radar until I finished third in the Dimension Data Pro-Am," said O'Briain, who won ZAR 332,025 (€22,546) in that event to retain his card.

"The important thing is that I’ve achieved everything I wanted to do since getting my card for the season and now have those co-sanctioned starts."

O'Briain had a hip injury last year which forced him to withdraw from the last three events of the 2016-17 Sunshine Tour season.

It's bothered him a few times already this year and finally flared up again on the range at Serengeti Estates before the first round of the 42-man, season-ending event.

“I’m devastated because I was playing lovely golf coming in here," he said after the first round. "And the last week or so, I have played nicely since I got down here. So, I am devastated that it flared up. I hit one drive, and my caddie threw me a ball. I just felt a spasm go and I knew that was nearly game over.

“I tried to get it around in the first round, trying to get something on the fairway, trying to hit something on the green, but there were just too many shots where it affected me. I just couldn’t, really, which It was upsetting,” 

O’Briain opened with a 79 and battled on to shoot a 74 in the second round.

But that left him at the bottom of the field on nine-over par and he decided enough was enough on Saturday and withdrew

"It's very disappointing but I really don’t feel as though I can get anything out of my golf with it," he said of the injury

"I was making a swing to minimise pressure on my hips and back and felt completely alien to me. Feel shots and half shots were a guessing game with distance control and the shots from the rough were nearly impossible as the rough is thick grass, so I had to dig and that put huge pressure on it too.

"I didn't feel comfortable at all, so hitting it at flags was a no go as I didn't know where the ball was going to go and I just had to hit at the middle of greens and take the chances.

"It was worse today than yesterday. I think I slept poorly on it tossing and turning during the night. But looking at the situation as a whole, it's better just need to focus on getting healthy."

O’Briain leads the race for Rookie of the Year with ZAR350,790 — R14,373 (€976) more than Byrd.

He's guaranteed R13,200 (€896) for last place, which means Byrd now needs R27,574 to overtake him — in other words, he requires a top 12 finish at worst

The American went into Saturday's third round tied for 16th on two-under after rounds of 73 and 69, eight shots behind leaders Justin Harding and Darren Fichardt.

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