Must stay straight and dry at SA Open – Big Easy
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.