South African Open champion Andy Sullivan returns to Johannesburg and the Joburg Open starting today doorstepping the top-50 in the world and a ticket to the major championships, which means he is confident he can contend at the co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour/European Tour event at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
“Finishing fifth here last year and then winning the SA Open at Glendower down the road in December makes it nice to come back. I’m keen to have a crack at it and I’m full of confidence. I’m swinging it quite well after a two-week break, so I’m looking forward to this week.
“I’ve never played a major championship. To play the Open in your own country would be absolutely fantastic. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on it, because I think I’ve done that in the past and underperformed. For me, it’s about going out there and trying to enjoy myself,” Sullivan said on Wednesday.
The 73rd-ranked Sullivan is the highest-ranked golfer in the field, but the local challenge will be a strong one with the Joburg Open title being won by a South African six times, including the last five years consecutively, in the eight-year history of the event.
The defending champion, George Coetzee, will bring his intimate knowledge of the course and is eager to mount a strong defence of his maiden European Tour crown, while Richard Sterne, bidding to become the first golfer to win three Joburg Opens, and Thomas Aiken are also amongst the favourites.
“Every week I’m posting one or two good numbers, it’s just a matter of putting four together. Hopefully being comfortable with the course will put me in good stead for this week,” Coetzee said.
Aiken is out to register his fourth European Tour win, but he acknowledges that there are a host of extremely talented South African golfers looking to use the Joburg Open as a stepping stone.
“There is a big field this week and a lot of youngsters, and that’s really what this tournament was made to be. It aims to give a lot of people the chance to play a European Tour event.
“Funnily enough, the more people you have, the lower the cuts get. It’s renowned here that the cut is low, and it shows that everyone out there can play. When you have more than 200 players, there will be 100 that play well, so the margins are very small. That’s the beauty of the game, you don’t see the same guy winning every week. That’s the nature of it. It would be boring if the same guy won every week, although I’d love to be the person who does that!” Aiken said.
It’s been a very dry February in Johannesburg, so the 210 golfers teeing off today will have an office that will provide plenty of run, making an already fairly short course even shorter. But those Royal Johannesburg and Kensington greens are as small as ever.