Lanky Englishman Chris Wood will be back at next week’s Africa Open at East London Golf Club for the first time since 2012 hoping to right what he might feel was the injustice of 2011, when he lost in a three-way playoff with Louis Oosthuizen and Spain’s Manuel Quiros.
Wood fired a four-under-par 68 on the final day to catch Oosthuizen and Quiros. The 18th was the first playoff hole and Wood safely found the fairway with his blind tee-shot, while Oosthuizen hooked his drive left, but the South African was fortunate to have a good lie and then produced a superb approach shot to eight feet of the flag.
Wood’s 25-foot birdie putt looked on course for the cup until it just faded away on the last few rolls, narrowly missing the hole, while Quiros was on the fringe and could not chip in for birdie. So it was Oosthuizen who holed out for birdie and his third European Tour title.
Wood is joined at the co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour/European Tour event by fellow highly-rated Englishmen Oliver Wilson and David Howell, but just to add even more spice to the Africa Open, there is a strong contingent of Frenchmen, their arch-enemies from across the Channel, coming to East London.
Julien Quesne has had a tough start to the year, including the black mark of a disqualification from the Dubai Desert Classic at the start of February, but he is a two-time European Tour winner and a regular visitor to South Africa.
Gregory Bourdy is the man many are tipping for success at the Africa Open as he is the third highest-placed competitor in the Race to Dubai, at 22nd, while Raphael Jacquelin, the father of four children with wife Fanny, is a four-time European Tour winner. He dreamed of playing professional football before having to give that up due to a knee injury when he was 13 and he initially switched to tennis before taking up golf with great success.
In terms of current newsmakers playing at East London Golf Club, none is bigger than Darren Clarke, the former Open champion who has just been named as Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain, while spectators will also get the chance to see one of the future stars of the tour in 21-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero.
Andrew Dodt, fresh off his victory in the Thailand Classic which lifted him to 13th in the Race to Dubai, and Brett Rumford, who grew up in Perth, a city that shares East London’s reputation for being windy, are coming from Down Under.
Jeev Milkha Singh was the trailblazer for Indian golf and has entered the Africa Open, but Shiv Kapur, one of the rising stars who fell in behind him, is the highest-ranked golfer from the sub-continent in action in East London, at 68th in the Race to Dubai and 240th in the world rankings.
Another Asian talent, South Korea’s Jin Jeong, finished tied second in last year’s Joburg Open and the time may have come for the former world number one amateur to claim his second European Tour title.
But it is English golf that is really taking the European Tour by storm this season and, apart from Wood, SA Open champion Andy Sullivan, Wilson and Howell, Robert Dinwiddie had an excellent Africa Open last year, finishing seventh, just two shots off the playoff, and Matthew Nixon had a strong finish over the weekend with rounds of 68 and 67.
Clearly, South African golfers are going to have their work cut out to ensure that the internationals have to wait a little longer for their first Africa Open title.