It's time for a South African to win the SA Open again

There are several pretenders to pick up the mantle, but the challenge will be very different for Ernie Els at the SA Open

02 December 2018 - 00:00 By LIAM DEL CARME

After producing 10 winners in 11 years between 2002 and 2011 SA has of late struggled to find another man to hoist the SA Open trophy.
Following that sustained period of success the only South African to win his home open is Brandon Stone, who triumphed at Glendower in 2016.
While his career has taken a few twists and turns since, the honours roll at the second oldest national open has been dominated by Englishmen. Andy Sullivan, Graeme Storm and Chris Paisley have won three of the last four SA Opens.
Paisley of course won the event in January this year, but due to scheduling demands the tournament has been brought forward, which means this year will feature two SA Opens.
The last time the SA Open was held in the same calendar year was in 2005 when Tim Clarke and then Retief Goosen claimed the main prize.
SA will have a strong challenge in this year's event which will be tri-sanctioned for the first time by the Sunshine, European and Asian Tours.
Apart from the usual local suspects Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Brandon Stone, players like Dylan Frittelli, Darren Fichardt and George Coetzee can also make their mark.
Frittelli attempted to defend his Mauritius Open title this week but made an underwhelming start and was eight shots off the pace after the opening round.
He's had a steady year, however, featuring in all four Majors and moving into the top 50 in the world rankings. He has since, however, slipped to 76th in the world.
"The experiences in the Majors were awesome," said Frittelli. "I've played in the last six Majors. I'm trying to keep that streak alive going into 2019. It's just fun to play in those kind of big tournaments. There were tons of cool experiences throughout.
"I'm trying to win every tournament I play in, it's just a matter of getting better and learning different conditions and trying to play better in bigger tournaments which are tougher to win. With better players in the field it's always going to be tough but I'm not putting too much pressure on myself."
While he will be searching for his maiden SA Open title, four-time winner Ernie Els intends to roll back the years as this will be his last SA Open before he qualifies for the senior tour next year.
The four-time Major winner has been to Mexico, the US, Australia and Mauritius in recent weeks. Els, who completed his rounds at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico and the RSM Classic in Georgia in a 12-under explained the form he is likely to bring to Randpark.
"I've been working with a new guy in Miami since the summer and it feels like the hard work is starting to pay off. The swing feels good, the putter is working nicely. It makes me excited for the weeks and months ahead.
"The venue is Randpark's two fine championship golf courses, Firethorn and Bushwillow," said Els about the lay-out that will host the tournament for the first time since 2000.
"We haven't had a lot of rain so it was tough to set up the course the way we wanted," said Randpark GM Francois Swart. "From a playability point of view it will be a nice challenge. The fairways are looking great. There is rough in some areas and in others not. Those are the conditions we've been given with the little rain we've had and that is what we have to deal with."
The course has undergone a few tweaks over the past few years but Swart says those have all settled and will increasingly become part of the course's landscape.
Whether the course will present a greater challenge than Glendower, where the tournament was held over the last five instalments, remains to be seen.
"It is hard to say. Glendower has been a very challenging course and we've only had the Joburg Open last year and I think the scores were fairly similar. I think it will be equally challenging. I think our firmer greens will pose a bit of a challenge," opined Swart.
Next week's event carries 2,000 points in the Race to Dubai and a purse of R17.5m.

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