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Ken Borland



The delights of Rory killed all cynicism 0

Posted on January 25, 2017 by Ken

 

I am a bit too cynical about these things, so I did predict gloomily that Rory McIlroy would probably miss the cut in the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club last weekend, for which the world number two was the star attraction.

But I am delighted to report that the Northen Irishman lived up to his billing both on and off the course, behaving every bit the much-loved superstar with his tremendous performance and his dealings with the large galleries that followed him around, scores of autograph seekers and the media.

No, McIlroy did not win the second oldest national open title as expected, but that had more to do with the splendid performance of Graeme Storm, who just made no mistakes, than any failings on Rory’s part.

The crowds, the largest seen at the SA Open in a decade, certainly got their money’s worth though as the thrilling McIlroy v Storm contest went all the way to three playoff holes. There is also surely no better driver of the ball in world golf than McIlroy, and those booming hits down the middle of the fairway have huge spectator value.

And, to make McIlroy’s entire performance even more impressive, he was struggling with a bad back which was later diagnosed as a stress fracture of a rib. He must have played through considerable discomfort, so kudos to the man. The seriousness of the injury is shown by his withdrawal from this weekend’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he could have regained the number one world ranking.

The current speculation is that he will be out of action for a month but let’s hope McIlroy gets better soon.

Of course, having such a wonderful guest at the SA Open was largely due to the efforts of tournament ambassador Ernie Els. Is there a better South African sporting patriot?

The respect that Els, a member of the Hall of Fame since 2011, enjoys in international golf is clearly about far more than just his golf game and the four major titles he was won. McIlroy made it clear that his presence in South Africa was as a favour to Els.

And the Big Easy has not only been a tremendous supporter of South African golf: If the Springboks or Proteas play in London, more often than not, Els will be there and usually gives of his time to hand out the jerseys or give a motivational speech to the team.

And the good news is, it looks like you may get the chance to see McIlroy again in South Africa in the near future.

“I had a fantastic time in South Africa, it was an incredible 10 days, and my fiancée and I are already planning to return at the end of the year,” McIlroy said after the disappointment of his playoff defeat.

If McIlroy genuinely meant the end of 2017 then you would think his eye is on the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, which is the penultimate event on the Race to Dubai and part of the lucrative Finals Series, or else he may have meant returning to the SA Open in a year’s time.

Either way, it is wonderful news for South African golf.

 

Sweet success for Stone on toughest day of his life 0

Posted on January 11, 2016 by Ken

 

Sweet success in winning the South African Open made it the best day of Brandon Stone’s young life, but the 22-year-old admitted that it had also been the toughest day of his life as he clinched victory by two strokes in a fraught final day at Glendower Golf Club on Sunday.

Having completed his third round early on Sunday morning with three birdies to go into the final round with a two-shot lead, Stone was in sublime form in the opening holes of the fourth round, two more birdies stretching his lead over Englishman Daniel Brooks to five strokes after four holes.

And then the wheels fell off.

Stone began leaking the ball left and right off the fairway and missing short putts as his lead all but evaporated with three successive bogeys from the fifth hole. A birdie on the par-five eighth, where he was fortunate to get away with another wayward drive, brought brief relief, but another trio of bogeys followed on nine, 10 and 11.

Stone was in freefall, but with the advisory words of his father and successful former Sunshine Tour pro Kevin in his mind, the highly-rated prospect showed remarkable composure and mental strength to get back on track, finishing in style with four birdies in his next five holes to reclaim the lead, confirming his victory with nerveless pars on the last two holes.

“It’s incredible to win a tournament that I’ve watched so passionately since I was about five and to have my name on that trophy … you just can’t put a value to it. It’s not meant to be easy, but today was definitely the hardest day of my life. Today was a real roller-coaster, I left every single thing I had out there, which is why I sank down on my knees after the final putt. I was so overcome by emotion, but it’s special.

“I had a stern talk to myself on the 12th tee and a quiet word with my caddy Chris Simmons, who said just get the drive in play. It felt better, like I had been swinging on the first few holes, and there the ball was, middle of the fairway, my favourite yardage. I hit it to six feet and everything just clicked after that,” Stone said.

The winner of the Freddie Tait Cup for leading amateur in the 2011 SA Open, is the first local golfer to win the national open since Hennie Otto’s triumph that year at Serengeti and, in a sure sign that the future of South African golf was in full view on Sunday at Glendower, 21-year-old Christiaan Bezuidenhout finished alone in second place on 12-under-par after an inspired 67 that included seven birdies.

Brooks played solidly but just could not get the birdies he needed in the closing holes to catch Stone, and a bogey on the last left him with a 72 and alone in third place on 11-under.

Family friend Ernie Els, the tournament host but also a mentor for Stone, was in the clubhouse ready to warmly embrace the winner, who is the youngest SA Open champion since the Big Easy’s own breakthrough triumph in 1992 in Houghton.

Stone said a tricky eight-footer for par on the 17th, and a similar length bogey putt he made on the par-three sixth, after his tee shot was short and in the water, was where he won the tournament.

Glendower Golf Club, where Stone lost a lead in the final round of the 2011 SA Amateur Championship, surely saw the unveiling of a new South African golfing superstar on Sunday.

 

 

Van Zyl ensures nothing kills his momentum in SA Open 0

Posted on January 08, 2016 by Ken

 

Jaco van Zyl made sure that neither the heat nor the hidden dangers of Glendower Golf Club killed his momentum as he soared into the first-round lead of the South African Open with a great round of seven-under-par 65 on Thursday.

The 36-year-old South African teed off from the 10th at 7am and started well with a birdie on the beautiful 436-metre par-four, and Van Zyl picked up further shots on the 13th, 15th and 16th holes to reach the turn on four-under. That quickly became seven-under as he birdied the par-four first hole and eagled the second, but then the heat and a blustery wind began to take their toll and Van Zyl dropped a shot on the seventh before regaining it with a birdie on the eighth.

“It was absolutely gorgeous for the first few holes today, there was not a breath of wind, it was nice and cool, so you really needed to capitalise early on. By the time we got to our eighth hole [the 17th], the wind really started picking up and it was warming up, so it just got so much tougher out there.

“It’s one of those golf courses that you go round and you think that it’s there for the taking, but as soon as you let your guard down a little, it bites. So you’ve always got to pick your safe targets off the tees and into greens,” Van Zyl said.

Another Gauteng golfer, Shaun Norris, also teed off from the 10th but 20 minutes earlier than Van Zyl, and he claimed second place with a six-under-par 66 that included an eagle on the 500-metre, par-five 15th.

South Africans Keith Horne and Jbe’ Kruger were the best of the afternoon golfers as they shot five-under-par 67s to share third place. Branden Grace fired a solid 69, while Retief Goosen was the best of the former champions with a 68 that included two double-bogeys.

But Glendower certainly showed her teeth for some of the other big names in the field, with defending champion Andy Sullivan slumping to a 75 after double-bogeys on the par-five second and par-three 17th holes.

Two-time champion Trevor Immelman and George Coetzee were also three-over-par, while Hennie Otto, the last South African to win the national open, in 2011, shot a birdie-less 76.

Five-time champion Ernie Els, who also started off the 10th, eagled the eighth but then three-putted for bogey on the ninth to finish with a 73.

 

 

 

Els wants local SA Open winner this year before big plans for next year 0

Posted on January 07, 2016 by Ken

 

 

Tournament ambassador Ernie Els is desperate for a local winner of the South African Open at Glendower Golf Club this year, but for next year’s event he has big plans to bring out Rory McIlroy and other top international golfers for the second oldest national open in the game, which starts on Thursday.

After three successive foreign winners of the South African Open – Andy Sullivan and Morten Orum Madsen at Glendower and Henrik Stenson at Serengeti, Els said on Tuesday that it was time for a team effort by the South Africans to ensure the prestigious trophy returns home.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on winning our national open, but for the last few years the foreigners have come and taken the trophy. I know it’s not a team competition, but I can guarantee you that the South African guys are going to pull together to try and take the trophy back because the foreigners are starting to take over. Branden Grace has not won it yet and I know he’s desperate to do it and I think George Coetzee is taking it very seriously this year as well. The local guys really want to win it,” Els said.

But from next year, Els himself will make it even harder for the home golfers as he plans to bring world number three and four-time major winner McIlroy over for the tournament.

“I’ve got Rory to commit to playing in the tournament, although I gave him some time to do it, a couple of years. For those top guys in the world, their schedule is so condensed, but I’m sure next year we’ll get him down here, maybe we’ll put him up in Cape Town for New Year’s.

“Rory has been such a great friend and supporter of our charities, as have other great players too. They’re all great lovers of South Africa, guys like Chubby Chandler and Lee Westwood are in Cape Town right now. I’m beginning to find my feet as the tournament ambassador and I want to make the field stronger. The top couple of golfers in the world have horribly busy schedules but I’m getting commitments from them,” Els said.

As for Ernie’s own game, the five-time winner of the SA Open had, by his own admission, an awful 2015, but he has spent many hours playing while also getting himself refreshed over the festive season.

“It was tough last year, as bad as it’s ever been, I missed some really short putts and I had tennis elbow. But I took time off, I feel refreshed and I feel up for it. I’d love to be in the top-50 again by the end of the year and I played a lot in December in Oubaai,” Els said.

 

 

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