Johannesburg - As Jaco van Zyl prepares to defend his title at the Telkom Business PGA Championship starting at the Country Club Johannesburg on Thursday, he is relishing playing his last competitive golf for a long time.
The two-time champion will be having knee surgery next Tuesday, and is likely to miss the rest of the year as he recovers.
“I haven’t started to think about life after surgery yet,” said Van Zyl.
“They said I have six weeks or two months in a wheelchair. I’ll try to get through that first and then get a bit more mobile. After that I can start with physiotherapy and hopefully it will improve.”
In the meantime, he has a tournament to play and will be trying to become the first man since Louis Oosthuizen in 2007 and 2008 to win the title back-to-back.
“It would be great to be able to do that,” said Van Zyl. “But it’s another week, so you try to take it shot for shot and not get ahead of yourself. But it would be nice to get number three under the belt.”
He has had three top-10 finishes on this year’s Sunshine Tour, with a best of third in the Investec Cup two weeks ago.
“I started putting nicely in Morocco and fortunately it carried over to two weeks ago in the Investec Cup,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll make a few putts this week.”
Even if his game is in good shape, he will have plenty of players pushing him as he attempts to win number three.
One of those is Trevor Fisher jnr, who won the Investec Cup and finished on top of the Chase to the Investec Cup to pull off a R3.5 million bonus.
“I think he will be up there again,” said Van Zyl. “This course suits him pretty well and he’s been playing nicely, so he’s always one of the contenders.”
Another leading contender, George Coetzee, was not able to defend his 2011 PGA Championship title and is viewing this week's tournament as a belated opportunity to try to do so.
Since his victory in the Joburg Open in February, Coetzee has been on a hectic international schedule which he hopes doesn't catch up with him this week.
“My game feels good. I know the course well enough, so I'm looking forward to the week,” he said on Wednesday.
“I'm hoping my competitive nature will pull through. I never got to defend my title, so I suppose this is my week to do that, even though it's a couple of years later.”
This week's PGA Championship also holds fond memories for Warren Abery as the tournament that reignited his career when he won it in 2005.
“This tournament means a lot to me. Before the 2005 PGA Championship I was a bit down on myself regarding my game, and I was looking for other avenues outside of golf. But that win really confirmed that I could still play this game, and it was kind of the start of my second career,” Abery said ahead of Thursday's first round.
His 2005 triumph sparked a run in which Abery won the South African Masters the following year, giving him ownership of two of the three “Majors” of South African golf. He earned his European Tour card, but was unable to keep it.
Abery is one of a number of former champions in the field this week, including Van Zyl, Coetzee, Michiel Bothma and Keith Horne.
More rain on the Woodmead course on the eve of the first round will make it a long test.
“It's playing very long because the fairways are still wet,” said Andrew Curlewis.
“The greens are a bit deceiving and look a lot slower than what they are. It's just a tough course. If you drive it poorly and go into the rough, you'll have problems. There are some good par-threes and you'll have to hit your irons well. It's an all-round good golf course and whoever wins will definitely have played the best golf for the week.”