LEAGUE OPENS A LOT OF MZANSI EYES TO CRICKET
WITH a three-shot lead going into today’s final round of the SA Open at Randpark Golf Club, Louis Oosthuizen will be the hot favourite to finally win his national open title. But he’s going to be pushed all the way by three men, including close friend Charl Schwartzel, all of whom are three shots back.
Oosthuizen, who shot a scintillating joint best ever score of nine-under 62 in SA Open history in round one, grabbed the lead from Schwartzel yesterday after firing a four-under-par 67 in windy conditions on the Firethorn course.
His round included six birdies and two bogeys and he sits at 14-under-par after three rounds.
“It’s 18 more holes of good golf. I’m going to take it one shot at a time,” said Oosthuizen about the prospect of triumphing today.
He said playing in strong winds throughout his round was a challenge, but that his hot putter had helped him get the job done.
“I didn’t think it was possible to be more windy than it was on Friday. It was very strange, it was tough again,” he said. “But I played well, hit a few bad drives, but the ball rolled off the putter nicely. I played solid golf.”
Three shots back at 11-underpar are three players who’ll look to chase down Oosthuizen today. Besides Schwartzel, who battled in the wind with a one-over-par 72, which included just one birdie and two bogeys, England’s Matt Wallace and Zambia’s Madalitso Muthiya are also in the hunt.
Wallace went round in 68 blows which included six birdies and three dropped shots, while Muthiya’s levelpar score of 71 included five birdies, one bogey and two double-bogeys.
Schwartzel said it was nice to be in contention again after a difficult year. “Three shots back is close enough for Louis to be scared,” said the former Masters champion, who is also chasing a first national open title after twice being runner-up.
“I haven’t been in this position for a while; it’s exciting and nice to be in contention again. It’s not nice playing at 8 o’clock in the morning in 40th position; it’s much better teeing off when you’ve got a chance to win.
“Louis is playing good golf, but three shots is nothing in any circumstances. If he plays good golf again he’ll win it, but if he doesn’t and we play good golf we’ll beat him.”
Schwartzel, who shot a stunning eight-under-par 63 on Friday, said the windy conditions had made scoring difficult yesterday. “I grew up in Joburg, and playing golf here, but I’ve never experienced two days in a row where the wind has blown like this. It’s abnormal and made it very difficult out there.
“It was a disappointing day for me. I got off to a bad start, missed two short putts (on the first and third holes) and then didn’t capitalise on a few good birdie opportunities later on. But, I hung in there and I’ve still got a chance.”
Eight players, including five-time champion Ernie Els and Branden Grace, are at eight-under-par and six shots off the lead. Els, playing his third round alongside his nephew, amateur star Jovan Rebula, shot a three-underpar 68 that included seven birdies. Four dropped shots however, including on his last two holes, cost him a chance of being better placed going into the final round.
A further nine players are at sevenunder-par, including Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen, South Africa’s Zander Lombard and Haydn Porteous, and the USA’S Kurt Kitayama, who won the Afrasia Mauritius Open last week. WE ARE in the last week of the Mzansi Super League. The whole thing may finish where it started, under Table Mountain.
That is fitting in itself, because that would complete a perfect circle. There has been a lot said and written about this new tournament, from how it has been organised, how it has been broadcast, and how it has been received.
Whatever the opinions, one thing is absolutely clear. This was needed by local cricket. It’s about time, even if it was African time.
You only have to go and speak to players who have made temporary homes around the country, learning new cricketing cultures, to understand how significant the breath of fresh air has been to the people who truly matter.
We are at least a decade behind schedule, but we have got there eventually. That is important, because there is at least something to build on from here.
Amongst several concerns, the biggest must be the crowds. There was atmosphere, but certainly not the full houses we might have hoped for. It is instructive to remember that a new brand takes time to weed itself in, even if its brightest buds are some of the biggest names in the world.
Spartans, Rocks and Heat are all new things to a conscience dealing with loadshedding, expropriation and the Rand and the land.
They will take time to roll off the tongue, never mind mobilise entire communities to beat proudly for them.
The IPL, cricket’s eternal Rome, was not built in one tournament . It took a few, faltering editions to turn it into the juggernaut it is. The same applies for the seven-year old Big Bash, proudly sponsored by the Streetwise Two team.
These things took time to get to the elevated stage they are at. And they also took balls.
CSA need a some big balls now, having broken the ground in 2018.
The first point of order is to do away with the 16 December final. It is too soon in the South African holiday season, and robs many potential fans the chance to flock to the stadiums.
Only now, as schools close and businesses wind down, can we really gauge how keen South Africa is to embrace this thing.
Had it started now, in early December, the numbers attending and tuning in might have been a lot more significant. It is a reality CSA needs to confront.
The schedule has been designed in a manner that doesn’t step on the road of the Big Bash, so players can possibly play in both.
We cannot be so diplomatic. The Big Bash makes no apologies for running right through the prime summer window, when most of the public has time and money on their hands.
Those two variables are the most pivotal currency in determining if the Mzansi Super League can be sustainable.
It has to be held at a time when time and money are available to as many people as possible. Thus, this thing has to start deeper into December, and allow more South Africans the opportunity to embrace it.
If that irks our friends Down Under, so be it. Apologies and compromises don’t pay the bills at the end of the day.
The broadcast deal will also be a bone of contention, because the first edition has been accessible to all. It might not be as polished as some Woolworths taste buds may prefer, but more eyes have set upon new names and faces than ever in domestic South African cricket.
That matters, too.
It has been far from perfect, but it has happened, and it will be back. That is important, because this could be the lifeline that the game needs.
More Nortjes, more Hendricks and more Sipamlas and more Fortuins. It is imperative.
Roll on 2019.
LOUIS Oosthuizen reacts at Randpark yesterday |