JOHANNESBURG - Led by Louis Oosthuizen, 13 South Africans will tee it up at the year’s final major at The Open starting at Royal St George’s Golf Club in Kent, England, on Thursday.
It’s hard to look past Oosthuizen as the favourite among the SA players, having finished second in the last two majors - The PGA and The US Open. His exploits over the last couple months meant he has now notched up six runner-up finishes in the four majors, and seen his world ranking rise to 13th in the world as SA’s top-ranked player.
His last tournament appearance was at The BMW International Open at the end of last month, when he quietly finished in a tie for 42nd.
The 38-year-old, however, has steadily built up a reputation for saving his best play for the majors and The Open is a tournament in which he has had the most success. He was crowned Open champion in 2010 at the home of golf - St Andrews Links in Scotland - by a massive seven-stroke margin. He also lost in a playoff for the Claret Jug at St Andrews in 2015 to American Zach Johnson.
Oosthuizen has an amazing ability to seemingly shrug off his near misses in the big four events, in a career that has promised more majors than just the one. The Open, once more, will provide Oosthuizen with probably the best chance to bag a second major title - and it would be no surprise, to South African fans at least, if he were to lift the trophy once more on Sunday.
One man with two Open titles to his name playing this week is Ernie Els. In fact, he remains the last SA player to win a major when he was a surprise winner in 2012 at Royal Lytham & St Annes. Now aged 51, ‘The Big Easy’ has been in top form on the US Champions Tour (senior tour) in the US, with two victories this season.
He may not be expected to contend with the young guns this week, but it was the same scenario nine years ago. At the very least, he may just have a few words of wisdom for some of the young SA players teeing it up, like Garrick Higgo and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
The 22-year-old Higgo is the SA number two at 40th in the world rankings, and is already playing in his third major this week. He famously won on the US PGA Tour in just his second event, exactly a month ago at the Palmetto Championship.
Higgo also may not be expected to contend, but neither was he at the Palmetto or in the three European Tour events in which he triumphed over the last 10 months. The big-hitting left-hander has long been touted as a future star, and with his biggest attribute being his mental strength - another major stride in his career could be made this week.
As for Bezuidenhout, at 27-years-old he will already be playing in his eighth major. His results in the majors this year have also been remarkably consistent with a tied-40th at The Masters, tied-30th at the PGA and a share of 31st at the US Open. Like Higgo, he is a three-time European Tour winner, and he too may just be ready to make a major step-up.
Branden Grace, meanwhile, has been steadily working his way back up the world rankings to his current position of 62nd to regain the SA number four spot. A former world-number 10, he fell out of the top-50 in 2019. However, the 33-year-old’s victory in the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open propelled him back into the top-100. He also finished tied-seventh at The US Open and with six top-10s in the majors, he could again be ready to contend.
Another SA player who could be rounding into form at the right time is 32-year-old Dean Burmester. Though his tie for 35th at last week’s Scottish Open is unremarkable, his third round five-under 66 included a closing seven-under 28 on his back nine. If this big-hitting birdie machine can limit his mistakes this week, there’s no reason why he won’t be in the mix during the final round.
Full list of South Africans playing in The Open: Jaco Ahlers, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Dean Burmester, Louis de Jager, Ernie Els, Dylan Frittelli, Branden Grace,Justin Harding, Garrick Higgo, Shaun Norris, Louis Oosthuizen, JC Ritichie, Erik van Rooyen, Daniel van Tonder.
African News Agency (ANA)