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
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
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.