Su­per­star McIl­roy the guy to beat – The Goose

Home sweet home as up­beat Retief, ‘Big Easy’, young guns in the mood to chase Glen­dower glory

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

AT No 2 in the world rank­ings, Rory McIl­roy is by far the out­right favourite to tri­umph at the South African Open to be played at Glen­dower from to­day, but if it’s got any­thing to do with Retief Goosen, he and fel­low veteran Ernie Els will be up there push­ing the North­ern Ir­ish­man all the way come Sun­day.

It’s been 10 years since two-time US Open cham­pion Goosen tri­umphed at the SA Open, in 2005, with his first na­tional Open ti­tle com­ing 10 years be­fore that, in 1995, but the now 47-yearold feels he still has the game to chal­lenge for a third ti­tle, es­pe­cially be­cause the tour­na­ment is at Glen­dower.

“I love this golf course. I’ve played here since I was a ju­nior and I know ev­ery inch of the course,” said a fairly up­beat Goosen yes­ter­day, ahead of to­day’s first round.

Goosen’s off at mid­day on the first tee, some five hours af­ter McIl­roy tees it up in his first round.

The smooth-swing­ing South African, who fin­ished tied fourth last year, five shots be­hind win­ner Bran­don Stone, feels McIl­roy could find play­ing in Joburg a lit­tle tougher than he thinks.

“The course is right in front of you. There are no real blind shots, but there’s a lit­tle el­e­va­tion on some holes and I don’t know how much Rory has ac­tu­ally played at al­ti­tude,” said Goosen. “If you’re not used to it, it’s dif­fi­cult to judge some­times how far the ball goes, and I’m sure we’ll prob­a­bly see him over-club­bing on some holes.

“Also, the course is play­ing long and there are a lot of sub­tle breaks on the greens.” But, hav­ing said that, Goosen still feels the world No2 will do well on the clas­sic lay­out. “When you play well it doesn’t mat­ter what course you play … you seem to find a way to make a good score. Rory is the guy to beat.”

Goosen, though, is hopeful of a good show­ing. “The course looks par­tic­u­larly good this year. The rough’s up and it’s tougher and I like play­ing tough and dif­fi­cult courses.

“It would be nice come Sun­day af­ter­noon and I’m in con­tention. I’m hoping for con­sis­tency in my game, but it comes down to the putting and this year the driv­ing, be­cause of the thick rough. It’s grow­ing daily by an inch.

“But this is a course that suits my eye and I be­lieve a lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence will help one this week. Wouldn’t it be great if Rory’s up there on Sun­day, and maybe my­self and Ernie … and some young­sters too? I hope I have a chance.”

McIl­roy spent no less than three­and-a-half hours prac­tis­ing yes­ter­day morn­ing, while the likes of Els opted to play a few holes in the hot high­veld sun.

The “Big Easy”, like Goosen, is op­ti­mistic of a good show­ing but is uncer­tain of what kind of form he’s in, while fel­low South Africans Jaco van Zyl, Ge­orge Coet­zee, Dean Burmester, Thomas Aiken, Justin Wal­ters, Dar­ren Fichardt and Hen­nie Otto will all be keen to beat McIl­roy and lift the fa­mous tro­phy.

And, of course, defending cham­pion Stone is brim­ming with con­fi­dence fol­low­ing his win at the Al­fred Dun­hill Cham­pi­onship in De­cem­ber and shoot­ing a 61 in prac­tice on Mon­day.

For­mer cham­pion Andy Sul­li­van, who won here in 2015, and Morten Orum Mad­sen, win­ner in 2013, will also be keen to find some form again, while Dar­ren Clarke, Jamie Donaldson and Lu­cas Bjer­re­gaard will fly the flag with McIl­roy for the vis­i­tors to Glen­dower.

FEA­TURED GROUPS AND TEE TIMES First round: 6.50am, 10th tee; Sec­ond round: 11.50am, 1st tee: Ernie Els, Andy Sul­li­van, Thomas Aiken First round: 7.00am, 10th tee; Sec­ond round: noon, 1st tee: Jamie Donaldson, Haydn Por­te­ous, Matthew South­gate First round: 7.10am, 10th tee; Sec­ond round: 12.10pm, 1st tee: Bran­don Stone, Rory McIl­roy, Ge­orge Coet­zee First round: 11.50am, 1st tee; Sec­ond round: 6.50am, 10th tee: Richard Bland, Nick Faldo, Justin Wal­ters First round: noon, 1st tee; Sec­ond round, 7.00am, 10th tee: Dar­ren Fichardt, Retief Goosen, Hen­nie Otto First round: 12.10pm, 1st tee; Sec­ond round: 7.10am, 10th tee: James Mor­ri­son, Mar­cel Siem, Jaco van Zyl

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

GOOD SWING: Retief Goosen is part of the South African con­tin­gent, among them Ernie Els, that will be striv­ing to keep the SA Open ti­tle on home soil and away from favourite Rory McIl­roy.

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