Must stay straight and dry at SA Open – Big Easy

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - DER WESTHUYZEN

KEEP the ball on the fair­way and deal with the ex­pected wet weather, and you’ll have a good week at Glen­dower. That’s the opin­ion of five-time SA Open cham­pion and four-time Ma­jor win­ner Ernie Els ahead of this week’s SA Open, to be played on Jo­han­nes­burg’s East Rand from Thurs­day.

The heavy rains over the last few days would have soft­ened up the “clas­sic course”, ac­cord­ing to Els, and will thus have a good and bad im­pact on the field, which this year also in­cludes the world’s sec­ond best player and the cur­rent FedEx Cup cham­pion, Rory McIl­roy.

“I’ve just got up to Joburg so haven’t seen the course yet, but I’ve heard about its con­di­tion af­ter all the rain so that’s go­ing to make it play a lit­tle longer,” said the “Big Easy” at the Els Club, Cop­per­leaf yes­ter­day. He was speak­ing fol­low­ing the con­clu­sion of the Friend­ship Cup, a team com­pe­ti­tion played be­tween ama­teurs from his foun­da­tion and that of Sir Nick Faldo’s. The in­di­vid­ual win­ner was Jo­van Re­bula, Els’s nephew.

“The wet weather though may also make things a lit­tle eas­ier as the greens will hold and we might even pick up and clean the balls… that’ll make things eas­ier.

“On the neg­a­tive, if you’re off your game you’re go­ing to re­ally strug­gle. The rough will be thicker than nor­mal, so scor­ing from out of the rough won’t be an op­tion. The guys who’re on their games, from tee to green, are go­ing to have a good week.”

Els said the key to win­ning at Glen­dower was to take ad­van­tage of the par 5s and to not make a mess of some of the most dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing par 4s in the coun­try.

“A lot of guys can reach the par 5s in two shots, and those who can, must take ad­van­tage. But then ev­ery­one must also watch out for the par fours; Glen­dower’s got some very dif­fi­cult ones. On the front nine, there are the fourth, fifth and sev­enths holes, and through the years they’ve al­ways been tough, and on the back nine, start­ing with the 10th… it’s a tough one. If you play the par 4s well and get a score go­ing on the par 5s you’ll have a good week.”

Els made no bones about the fact McIl­roy is the hot favourite, es­pe­cially as this coun­try’s three lead­ing play­ers – Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel – have de­cided to skip the tour­na­ment.

“Rory is by far the class player in the field when you look at the world rank­ings,” said Els. “He’s the guy ev­ery­one will be look­ing up at to beat.

“There’s so much ex­cite­ment among ev­ery­one, from the play­ers to the spec­ta­tors that he’s here, and I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to see­ing him in the field.

“Of course (de­fend­ing cham­pion) Bran­don Stone has had great suc­cess in South Africa in the last year and he’ll bring un­be­liev­able con­fi­dence into the tour­na­ment, af­ter win­ning last year and af­ter what he did at Leop­ard Creek (in De­cem­ber), and then there’s Ge­orge Coet­zee and Richard Sterne. But golf is a funny game and there will be a lot of rust on a lot of guys, so it’s quite a tough one to call.

“But yes, it’s hugely dis­ap­point­ing that Branden, Charl and Louis are ab­sent. South Africa loves them and would love to see them play, es­pe­cially in their home Open. Hope­fully, they’ll get this tour­na­ment onto their sched­ules in fu­ture.”

But, what about Els be­ing a con­tender? “I’m not sure where my game is,” he said.

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