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Ken Borland



Woods chasing records while Grace & Coetzee make debuts 0

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Ken

 

While the revitalised Tiger Woods is favoured to close to within three of Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 major titles when the Masters gets underway this evening, Branden Grace and George Coetzee will make their debuts at Augusta, lifting South Africa’s representation in one of golf’s most hallowed events to an all-time high of eight.

The pair will join compatriots Tim Clark, Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Trevor Immelman in an event that has seen five South African triumphs – Gary Player in 1961, 74 and 78; Immelman in 2008 and Schwartzel in 2011.

The last player to win on his Masters debut was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and, although Oosthuizen was edged into second by Bubba Watson in a playoff last year and Els is the reigning British Open champion, the spotlight has been elsewhere.

Woods, who has risen like the phoenix back to number one in the world, is the clear favourite, bringing both great form – three wins in his last five starts – and tremendous pedigree, having four previous Masters titles, to the tournament.

Even Nicklaus backs Woods to kick-start his quest for 19 major titles again.

“If Tiger doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, then I don’t know. I’ve said, and I continue to say it, that I still expect him to break my record. I think he’s just too talented, too driven and too focused on that. From this point, he’s got to win five majors, which is a pretty good career for most people to start at age 37. But I still think he’s going to do it, he’s in contention every year,” Nicklaus said.

The other contenders are Rory McIlroy, who returned to form with a second-place finish in last weekend’s Texas Open, three-time champion Phil Mickelson and, if you believe the British press, perennial favourite Ian Poulter, even though the Ryder Cup star is battling allergies as practically everything is blooming at Augusta at the moment.

This year’s Masters will also see the emergence of a stunning new talent who could not only be the successor to Woods but also the precursor to the Chinese dominance of the game many have predicted.

The 14-year-old Guan Tianlang will smash Matteo Mannesero’s record of being the youngest golfer to play in the Masters by two years and the youngster has impressed all and sundry in the build-up to the Major.

The son of a keen seven-handicap golfer, who knew his boy was something special when he beat him aged seven, Guan qualified for the Masters by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships in November.

Woods and two-time champion Tom Watson were among the legends he played practice rounds with, and both came away with the impression they were in the presence of future greatness.

“I enjoyed playing with Guan, he has good tempo, his rhythm is very good. Once he grows a little bit, he will be able to get the club faster. He will use a different swing plane when he gets taller and stronger,” Watson said.

“He’s so consistent,” said Woods. “He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot-on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing, he knew the spots he had to land the ball and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution.”

The importance of course knowledge is magnified at Augusta, where the slopes on the fairways and greens are far steeper than the television coverage portrays. It really is the thinking man’s golf course.

“There isn’t a single hole out there that can’t be birdied if you just think, but there isn’t one that can’t be double-bogeyed if you ever stop thinking,” was the famous quote of Bobby Jones, the Masters co-founder and winner of seven Majors as an amateur.

The veteran Els gave the rookie Grace some words of advice before the tournament and he used the Jones quote.

“Overall I’d say it’s a tough golf course to learn in a hurry. I’m sure this will be the first of many visits to Augusta in your [Grace’s] career, so try to enjoy it and soak it all up. There are certain ‘crunch shots’ at Augusta where the tariff is very high and from one to 18 there is no other course where the margins between a birdie and a bogey are so small. You have to commit to your shots and be aggressive to your spots, even if that’s 25-feet right of the pin.

“You’ll know already that the slopes are more severe than they appear on television, so you hit a lot of iron shots from sloping lies and you’ve got the big elevation changes coming into some of those greens. The wind can switch around, especially in Amen Corner.

“The short game is the biggest thing at Augusta, though. The grass around the greens is mowed very tight and against the direction of play, so you have to be very precise with your strike. Obviously the speed and the slope of the greens get your attention, as well. Other than that, it’s really pretty straightforward!”

In Grace’s case, his short game, especially his lob-wedge, is impressive, but what is also relevant is that he is comfortable playing a high draw, which Augusta favours.

Apart from the advice from Els, Grace has also played a practice round with no less of an authority on Augusta than Player.

“I’m hitting the ball like I did in January again and I’m ready. Excitement will take care of the rest. It’s an experience I’ve never had before, Augusta and the Green Jacket is the most special of them all because of the history and South Africans having done well in the Masters in the past.

“I’ve been given some great insights in the practice rounds and everyone has just tried to help George and I as much as possible. Obviously I was disappointed to miss the cut in my last Major, but there was a little bit of extra pressure then because I had come in from nowhere really.

“Now I’m not worried that I have to go out and play well, I’m not worried about what people think because I’m number 32 in the world and I can just go out and enjoy myself. I’m in a good place,” Grace said.

Whatever the result, many would say he is in the best place of all for a golfer: beautiful Augusta in the springtime.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-04-11-masters-preview-tiger-tiger-burning-bright/#.WZLvBlUjHIU

Chilling with the golfers & the wildlife at Leopard Creek’s 13th 0

Posted on December 12, 2016 by Ken

 

With the Crocodile River and the Kruger National Park forming its one boundary and its excellent design, the 13th hole at Leopard Creek, outside Malelane, is surely one of the best holes in world golf.

A 505-metre par-five, an elevated tee shot has to cross a stream that splits the fairway, while avoiding a well-placed bunker on the right of the landing zone. With the fairway sloping right-to-left, and with the stream curving around to run the rest of the length of the hole down the left, any drive that goes left will land up in the water hazard.

If the first shot is successful, a big choice then awaits as to whether to take on the green, which hangs 32 metres above the Crocodile River and is protected by three bunkers and a pond, as well as thick grass behind the green.

Once on the putting surface, there is a wonderful view over the Crocodile River and into Kruger National Park, with Hippopotamus, Elephant, various antelope, Warthog and numerous different bird species almost always spotted.

Brandon Stone, who won last weekend’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek with a superb 22-under-par total of 266, the second-best winning score at the event, certainly rates the 13th hole very highly.

“That’s my favourite hole in the world, without even exaggerating one little bit, it really is special. The fact is it’s not just a location; the actual hole’s design itself, I think it’s a really tricky tee-shot. You’ve got to really hit a good tee-shot to hit that fairway.

“And then if you hit the fairway it’s still not an easy par-five green to get into. I mean nine times out of 10, I’ll actually lay up; I’ve even written on my book, if it’s anything more than a six-iron, it’s not even worth going at because that green is just so tricky to hit; you just can’t even see the left side.

“So I think if I can play that hole under-par for the week, I’ll be happy, because I think a lot of other guys are going to get a little bit too greedy and it’s going to come and bite them a little bit. And then if they go over the back, something else could bite them,” Stone said before going eagle-bogey-birdie-birdie on the hole.

On the final day, I watched two three-balls play the hole and the scores amongst those six golfers ranged from Keith Horne’s eagle to a couple of sevens by Bryce Easton and Pablo Larrazabal.

It’s a classic risk-and-reward hole designed by Gary Player and although 13 golfers over the four days made double-bogey or worse, at least they didn’t fall foul of the two-metre long crocodile that was lurking inside the pool next to the green!

It was also the hole when Stone finally closed the door on Charl Schwartzel in the final round, making birdie while the defending champion wasted a superb drive by finding a greenside bunker, taking two shots to get out and finishing with a bogey that left him five behind.

As captivating as the golf is, the view from the green into Kruger National Park tears you away and even the competitors linger a bit, the joy of spotting something special undoubtedly lifting spirits in a place that is often brutally hot and was 40 degrees in the final round.

The next day, while driving through Kruger, exactly opposite the 13th, perhaps 200 metres from the river, I came across a family of Wild Dog, just showing what special potential sightings are there.

 

Stone displays top-class golf & temperament in big Leopard Creek win 0

Posted on December 09, 2016 by Ken

Brandon Stone produced a top-class display of golf and a wonderful temperament as he swept to a seven-stroke victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek on Sunday.

The 23-year-old enjoyed a three-stroke lead over a trio of golfers – including defending champion Charl Schwartzel, a four-time winner at Leopard Creek – and fired a brilliant five-under-par 67 on a sweltering day alongside the southern border of the Kruger National Park.

That left him on a magnificent 22-under-par for the tournament, a total bettered only once at Leopard Creek, by Schwartzel when he shot 24-under in 2013.

That Stone has a rare talent when it comes to golf was already clear, the SA Open champion showing that in his first three rounds of 67, 66 and 66, but it was his superb temperament that shone through on Sunday, as he absorbed an early charge by Schwartzel and then obliterated South Africa’s number two ranked golfer and the rest of the field.

Schwartzel started the final round with a pair of birdies and then when he birdied the par-four sixth hole, he had drawn level with Stone.

The Rustenburg-born golfer immediately birdied the sixth himself though, and added another birdie on the seventh.

Trying to keep a low ball-flight on the long par-four eighth, the second toughest hole on Sunday, Stone took a Driver off the deck, but put his ball in the rough, leading to a bogey.

“It’s my most fun shot, but I just hit it a bit heavy,” Stone explained afterwards.

So he went to the turn one-under-par and just one ahead of Schwartzel, but Stone produced a phenomenal change of gear on the back nine, rattling off pairs of birdies on 10 and 11 and 13 and 14. It was all part of the plan he said, showing his maturity.

“On the front nine I was tied for the lead at one stage and it was reminiscent of the SA Open. But I knew my game-plan was to be one or two under for the front nine and then try and score on the back nine, and I was able to get some momentum going,” Stone said.

By the time Stone bogeyed the par-four 17th, there was nobody anywhere near him.

There had been signs of fight from Schwartzel as he sank a 20-foot putt for birdie from the fringe on the par-four 11thhole, but there were inconsistencies in his game.

The rot began on the par-five 13th when, after a superb drive down the middle of the fairway, he put his approach shot into the greenside bunker.

He took two shots to get out of the sand, and another two putts to finish the hole, the bogey he made meaning he was five behind Stone when the youngster birdied the same hole a few minutes later.

There was no coming back for Schwartzel, in fact there was even more pain.

On the par-five 15th he twice hit into thick rough before finding the water, eventually signing for an eight, and then his tee-shot on the par-three 16th also went into the drink, leading to a double-bogey.

Even though Schwartzel birdied the last, he was left in a tie for fourth on 12-under-par with compatriot Thomas Aiken (69), Frenchman Benjamin Hebert (72), Scotland’s Scott Jamieson (69), Spaniard Carlos Pigem (69) and England’s Graeme Storm (68), after a 74.

It was not a good day either for the other two golfers who were tied for second overnight with Schwartzel.

South African Keith Horne was off to a terrible start with two bogeys and a double in his first four holes, and was left in a tie for 11th on 10-under-par after a 76, while Hanson was also blown off course early on with a seven on the par-five second hole, finishing with the same score as Horne.

Richard Sterne was the big beneficiary of all that carnage, shooting an impressive 67 to climb from seventh to second on 15-under-par overall.

Young Belgian Thomas Detry was also impressive in shooting a 68 that left him in third place on 13-under.

Although it seemed an almost effortless victory for Stone, he said he had to sweat both literally and figuratively in the 40 degree heat.

“It certainly wasn’t stress free and I was absolutely cooked at the end, I was the first guy into the shade whenever there was a break in play. But it’s probably the best I’ve played, my ball-striking was superb from the first hole to the last and there wasn’t a hole that I was really in trouble on all week. To shoot 22-under around here is not a simple task, it’s quite something,” an ecstatic Stone said.

It was an amazing display of golf and deserving of the cool R2.8 million winning cheque Stone received.

http://citizen.co.za/uncategorized/1365143/stone-displays-top-class-golf-in-big-leopard-creek-win/

Stone shows he’s blessed with temperament as well as ‘game’ 0

Posted on December 08, 2016 by Ken

 

Young Brandon Stone is undoubtedly blessed with a terrific golf game but an equally impressive temperament as he showed on Sunday by blazing his way to a seven-stroke victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.

The 23-year-old began the day with a three-stroke lead over defending champion Charl Schwartzel, who has won the tournament four times, and showed immense composure as South Africa’s number two ranked golfer drew level with him after six holes.

But Stone stuck to his game-plan of staying conservative on the tougher front nine, turning in one-under-par, before obliterating the field on the back nine as he raced to a five-under-par 67, including five birdies, that left him on 22-under-par for the tournament, the second-best winning score ever.

It was the vastly more experienced Schwartzel who disintegrated, a bogey at the par-five 13th, when he wasted a superb drive by taking two shots to get out of a greenside bunker, being followed by a disastrous eight at the par-five 15th and then a double-bogey on the par-three 16th after more water trouble.

In fact, Stone stared down all his challengers, with Keith Horne and Chris Hanson both fading to 76s for 10-under overall, while Benjamin Hebert could only manage a level-par 72 to finish in a tie for fourth on 12-under and David Drysdale shooting a 73 to finish on 10-under.

Richard Sterne, second on 15-under-par after a 67, and young Belgian Thomas Detry, who finished third in just his fifth European Tour start after a 68, were the chief beneficiaries of the carnage up top the leaderboard.

“It wasn’t stress free but it feels great and it’s massive to have my name alongside those big ones already on the trophy. It’s probably the best I’ve played, my ball-striking was superb from the first to last hole and there wasn’t a hole where I was really in trouble all week. To shoot 22-under around here is not a simple task, it’s quite something,” a delighted Stone said after his second European Tour triumph following his SA Open win at the start of the year.

A pair of birdies on the sixth and seventh holes were key for Stone as they kept him under par on the front nine, even though he bogeyed the eighth, taking a lot of flak for hitting Driver off the deck.

“On the front nine I was tied for the lead at one stage and it was reminiscent of the SA Open. But I knew my game-plan was to be one or two under for the front nine and then try and score on the back nine and I was able to get some momentum going,” Stone said.

Victory was sealed on the 13th shortly after Schwartzel’s bogey there as Stone narrowly missed his putt for eagle after a superb drive and approach shot to 25 feet, his birdie giving him a five-shot lead.

Stone was just way too hot for the rest of the field on a sweltering 40 degree day in Malelane.

 



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