WITH nine South Africans in the field for the Open Championship, starting at Royal Birkdale this morning, the hopes of the Rainbow Nation will be led by a couple of experienced competitors and one rank outsider.
That outsider is 417th in the world and deemed to be well past his prime. That man is four-time Major-winner Ernie Els, and he certainly believes he can contend when he tees it up in the oldest championship in golf. The Big Easy is playing in his 99th Major.
“This is the biggest week in golf, no question,” said Els.
“Even though this is my 27th Open, trust me the buzz, the nerves, and the excitement, are still strong. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The former world No 1 has no form to speak of this year, with a host of missed cuts and a best finish of 35th on the PGA Tour but on the testing, but fair, layout at Royal Birkdale, the experienced links golfer is at a definite advantage.
It has also been five long years since a South African won a Major, and if that drought were to continue it would not be a surprise. Except for one thing, golf, and Major championships in particular tend to produce surprises. One of the biggest surprises was in 2012 when Els, then aged 42, won his second Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s.
“I remember when I holed that birdie putt on 18 at Royal Lytham to win in 2012, the hairs were standing up on my arms. That’s what you dream about, that’s what you play for. If I can get my game together this week and the draw is kind to me … who knows, maybe we can make some noise again.
One South African, who to date has only displayed glimmers of his massive potential, is Branden Grace. The 29-year-old already has seven wins on the European Tour to his credit. In 2015 and last year, Grace had four topfive finishes in the Majors, and came agonisingly close to a breakthrough at the 2015 US Open.
Without a win this year and solid, yet unremarkable form this season, Grace has a low ball-flight which is best-suited to links-style golf in high winds. Aided with a streaky putter he could well produce another challenge for a Major title.
Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen both tend to produce their best golf in the Majors. Schwartzel, 2011 Masters Champion, finished third at Augusta this year. ]
Oosthuizen, who won the Open in 2010, finished second in the Player’s Championship in May.
Brandon Stone, 24, is already a two-time winner on the European Tour and while he may not be ready to win a Major just yet – steady progression is expected of this prodigious talent.
The other South Africans in the field are Darren Fichardt, Dylan Frittelli, Shaun Norris and Jbe Kruger. – ANA MELBOURNE: England’s abject display against South Africa in the second Test shows they are a side struggling for consistency and Australia should beable to exploit their lack of cohesion in the upcoming Ashes series, former paceman Mitchell Johnson has said.
South Africa thrashed England by 340 runs in Nottingham on Monday, levelling the four-match series and consigning Joe Root’s men to a seventh loss in 10 Tests.
With the first Ashes Test