Strong lo­cal field for SA Open

Rand­park chal­lengers in­clude pre­vi­ous win­ners Els, Im­mel­man

The Sunday Independent - - SPORT - JACQUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN jacques.vd­west­[email protected]

THE crème de la crème of South African golf, in­clud­ing sev­eral Ma­jor win­ners, will be vy­ing to be­come the lat­est SA Open cham­pion when the tour­na­ment tees off at Rand­park on Thurs­day.

Top 100-ranked golfers Louis Oosthuizen, Bran­den Grace, Dy­lan Frit­telli, Charl Schwartzel, Justin Hard­ing and Shaun Nor­ris will all be in ac­tion at a venue that last hosted the sec­ond-old­est Open cham­pi­onship in the world in 2000, when Swede Math­ias Gron­berg won the tour­na­ment.

In the only other stag­ing at Rand­park, in 1995, Retief Goosen beat Ernie Els, pic­tured, to lift the tro­phy.

Els, a four-time Ma­jor win­ner and five-time SA Open cham­pion, will also be part of the strong lo­cal con­tin­gent look­ing to be­come only the sec­ond SA player in seven years to win their home cham­pi­onship.

The last South African to lift the tro­phy was Bran­don Stone, who won at Glen­dower in 2016, with the last home-grown win­ner be­fore him be­ing Hen­nie Otto, who tri­umphed at Serengeti in 2001.

South African play­ers though have come close in the last few years with all of Grace, Chris­ti­aan Bezuiden­hout, Schwartzel, J’be Kruger, Ge­orge Coet­zee and Otto be­ing run­ners-up.

Stone, Coet­zee, Haydn Por­te­ous, two-time win­ner Trevor Im­mel­man, Dean Burmester, Erik van Rooyen, Dar­ren Fichardt and Thomas Aiken will be back for an­other crack at the ti­tle, along with de­fend­ing cham­pion Chris Pais­ley from Eng­land.

Pais­ley’s big­gest pro­fes­sional vic­tory last sea­son came af­ter a stun­ning four days when he edged out Grace by three shots, with wife Keri on the bag.

One of the Euro­pean Tour’s big­gest stars of 2018, Matt Wal­lace of Eng­land, will be one of the favourites to go all the way at Rand­park. He has won three times this year – the In­dian Open, the BMW In­ter­na­tional and the Made in DE­FEND­ING cham­pion Cameron Smith shot a five-un­der-par 67 on day three of the Aus­tralian PGA Cham­pi­onship on the Gold Coast yes­ter­day and took a three­shot lead over com­pa­triot and World Cup of Golf team­mate Marc Leish­man into the fi­nal round. | Reuters/Epa-EFE Den­mark tour­na­ment – and also tri­umphed at the Por­tu­gal Open last May.

The SA Open will be tri-sanc­tioned by the Euro­pean, Sun­shine and Asian Tours this year and will be played at Rand­park’s Bush­wil­low and Firethorn cour­ses. Play­ers will play each of the cour­ses on Thurs­day and Fri­day, with the fi­nal two rounds played on the Firethorn course.

The tour­na­ment has merged with the Joburg Open, which was played at the same venue last De­cem­ber, with In­dia’s Shubankhar Sharma com­ing out on top. Van Rooyen – re­cently an­nounced as the Chal­lenge Tour grad­u­ate of 2018 – was a pop­u­lar run­ner-up.

With a to­tal prize fund of R17.5-mil­lion up for grabs the 240 play­ers have plenty to be ex­cited about this week.

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