Stone, McIlroy brace for SA Open

CityPress - - Sport - PULE MOKHINE pmokhine@city­press.co.za

Will South African hot­shot golfer Bran­don Stone be able to beat the magic of Rory McIlroy in the BMW SA Open Cham­pi­onship?

The Sun­shine Euro­pean Tour, a co-sanc­tioned event and one of the coun­try’s old­est, tees off at Glen­dower Golf Club in Eden­vale, Ekurhu­leni, on Thurs­day.

Stone will be de­fend­ing his ti­tle fol­low­ing a breath­tak­ing dis­play that saw him win the Open with a score of 14-un­der par 274 at the same venue last year, when he pock­eted a whop­ping R2.4 mil­lion in prize money.

McIlroy is a four-time ma­jor cham­pion. And hav­ing spent 95 weeks as world num­ber one, he will com­pete in the show­down as a spe­cial guest of Ernie Els, him­self the player host of this par­tic­u­lar event.

But the event will be es­pe­cially in­trigu­ing be­cause Stone and McIlroy are both equally highly skil­ful draw cards.

Last month saw the 23-year-old Pre­to­ria-based Stone close the Euro­pean Tour sea­son on a high, by snatch­ing the Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship – an­other big event on the tour cal­en­dar.

He tri­umphed by beat­ing fel­low South African Richard Sterne by six strokes, at Leop­ard Creek Coun­try Club at Male­lane, Mpumalanga.

Stone’s game has im­proved re­mark­ably, thanks to the im­mense con­tri­bu­tion of his dad, Kevin, a for­mer pro­fes­sional player him­self, who has been coach­ing his son on how to go about sink­ing those birdies.

And this top form will prob­a­bly un­set­tle McIlroy, who is hell­bent on tak­ing the coun­try by storm, by win­ning our big one.

McIlroy (27), who is cur­rently ranked third in the world, re­cov­ered fully from an an­kle in­jury sus­tained in 2015, to win the Dubai Duty Free Ir­ish Open, which he him­self hosted in May last year. He bagged the Deutsche Bank Cham­pi­onship and the Tour Cham­pi­onship in Septem­ber.

With a swelling num­ber of golf en­thu­si­asts, still en­joy­ing fes­tive sea­son hol­i­days, ex­pected to de­scend on the Glen­dower course like a swarm of bees, ex­pec­ta­tion will be high on Stone and McIlroy to give the golf­ing fans some­thing to talk about.

Com­pe­ti­tion will be in­tense, as other big names will be out to burn the fair­ways too.

South Africa’s Retief Goosen, two-time US Open and SA Open win­ner will be there, dis­play­ing his skills to show that he still has the magic.

Hen­nie Otto, who is now based in Mau­ri­tius, was the last South African to win the Open in 2011, and he will be back with the hope of re­peat­ing that feat.

Other stars who have en­tered for the show­down in­clude for­mer Bri­tish Open ti­tle­holder Dar­ren Clarke from North­ern Ire­land; Den­mark’s Morten Ørum Mad­sen; and English­man Andy Sul­li­van, who won the Open in 2014 and 2015.

PHOTO: ROSS KIN­NAIRD / GETTY IMAGES

MAGIC Rory McIlroy is ex­pected to give his best at the SA Open

PHOTO: RICHARD HEATH­COTE / GETTY IMAGES

SWIFT ti­tle Bran­don Stone will de­fend his SA Open

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