Rolling Stone eager to defend home Open title
AS DEFENDING champion and winner of last month’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek, he would have been one of the favourites for this week’s SA Open at Glendower, but just to hammer home the point that it’s not all about Rory McIlroy, Brandon Stone fired a stunning 11 under-par 61 in practice on Monday.
Yes, Stone, winner at Glendower a year ago, is in hot form and he’s desperate to defend his title come Sunday. The fact that world No 2 McIlroy is in the field motivates him even more.
“Outside of the four Majors, this is the one you want to win ... your home Open,” said a confident Stone yesterday.
“I get goose flesh thinking about them calling me out as the defending champion when I step onto the first tee on Thursday (tomorrow).
“Knowing I can come here and play for the rest of my life, that’s why this tournament will now be so special to me and close to my heart.
“This is my fifth Major; it’s just so special having my name on that trophy, but I don’t want it to be there only once – I want to see it there again and again.”
The self-proclaimed “whipper snapper” enjoyed a remarkable 2016 season, winning the SA Open and the Alfred Dunhill at Leopard Creek – both coming after he captured the Cape Town Open for his first big win.
But there were other major highlights last year, too.
“Two European Tour wins, one Sunshine Tour title, two Major appearances and the Rio OIympics , and finishing the year in the top 50 in the Race to Dubai standings – if you’d given me that on January 1 last year, I would have said, ‘okay, cool, where do I sign and for how long?’
“It was a special year. Sure, I didn’t play as well as I would have liked in continental Europe – in fact I struggled – but I enjoyed last year and experienced some incredible things.
“I’m still a whipper snapper, just with a fancy parking (at Glendower) this year. I’m the same person, love playing golf.
“Walking up the 18th on Monday in practice, I got the same butterflies I had last year; the emotions kept coming back. It’s a special place for me.”
Stone is now hoping to go back-to-back and will fancy his chances after finishing 2016 in style and with the likes of Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel absent.
“I had a great (practice) round yesterday (Monday),” said Stone.
“I was able to get the rust off after not playing much in December and wasn’t planning on firing on all cylinders. But it felt good ... suppose a 61 doesn’t hurt the confidence.”
Stone knows there will be new and different challenges this week – among them the presence of McIlroy – but going for him is that he knows the course and what it takes to win at Glendower. And let’s not forget he’s a man full of confidence.
“It’s now 2017 and I have to reset my goals. The bar has been raised and I have to try to live up to that now. The course is playing similar to last year; again it’s in superb condition, more so considering we had 92mm of rain on Sunday night. If that 61 is (my) worst round of the week I’d be very chuffed.” BRANDON STONE