JOHANNESBURG - Some are looking to build on their 2017 seasons and be even better this year, while others are desperate to find the form they had a few years ago; that’s what makes this week’s 107th SA Open at Glendower so intriguing.
As the tournament tees off on Thursday morning, the goals and aspirations of all the men in the field are vastly different from one another - from South African greats Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman hoping to be up there on the leaderboard on Sunday to 2016 champion and youngster Brandon Stone desperate to find the form that saw him win two years ago.
Dylan Frittelli won twice on the European Tour last year and pushed world No 3 and tournament winner Jon Rahm all the way on the final day of the World Tour Championship in Dubai in November for the proof he needed he “belongs”, while Branden Grace who won the Nedbank Golf Challenge in early November for arguably the biggest title of his career, will also want to push forward and hit early season form.
Charl Schwartzel will be keen for a good showing again after coming so close a few years ago and so, too, will George Coetzee, Haydn Porteous and Dean Burmester be out to land the title all South Africans want behind their names.
Stone was the star at Glendower two years ago, but he slumped last year and isn’t considered a favourite this week. He admitted on Wednesday ahead of Thrusday's first round that he struggled to come to grips with a poor 2017, but feels rejuvenated at the start of this year at a venue he has come to love.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been two years (since I won),” Stone said. “That’s a good thing probably because I didn’t play well last year.
“Last year was tough. Towards the end of the season I was finished... I’m not going to beat around the bush or sugar-coat it. I was burnt out, I was done, I was frustrated and I didn’t want to play.
“I needed a break and for six weeks (after the NGC in November), I didn’t touch the clubs. I think that benefited me because now I feel fresh again, I feel like I want to play. I’m excited and the blood is flowing.”
Grace, who didn’t play the event last year, was in wonderful form as he bagged the NGC title in November, but he wants to follow that up with a good performance this week.
“Winning the Nedbank was special, but the SA Open title is one of my childhood dreams. This is one of the tournaments I grew up watching and if I manage to bag this one I’ll be able to say I’ve won the Alfred Dunhill, Nedbank and SA Open... so I’m here for that,” said Grace, hoping to emulate tournament host Els as the only man to have won that “treble”.
For Schwartzel, it’s a first appearance at the SA Open in three years after he lost to Andy Sullivan after a disastrous final day in 2015 and he’s keen to be up there challenging again this week.
“I haven’t been back after that day. I had that win in my hands but a few bad shots down the stretch cost me ... it’s definitely one of those titles I want on my CV," Schwartzel said after revealing he has a swing coach by his side for the first time in his career.
“We’ve worked on a few subtle things and I believe it’ll make a big difference to my game, but I don’t think those things will kick in this week already. But, I’m feeling good about my game.”
Defending his title this week is Graeme Storm, who famously beat Rory McIlroy after four extra holes in a playoff last year. “I’m looking forward to defending; it should be good fun,” said the Englishman. “I’m more relaxed this time, after a good season last year, and looking forward to the year ahead.”