Ernie Els is part of a sterling field for the competition. Photo: CJ Gunter/EPA
The crème de la crème of South African golf, including several Major winners, will be vying to become the latest SA Open champion when the tournament tees off at Randpark on Thursday.

Top 100-ranked golfers Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, Dylan Frittelli, Charl Schwartzel, Justin Harding and Shaun Norris will all be in action at a venue that last hosted the second-oldest Open championship in the world in 2000, when Swede Mathias Gronberg won the tournament.

In the only other staging at Randpark, in 1995, Retief Goosen beat Ernie Els to lift the trophy.

Els, a four-time Major winner and five-time SA Open champion, will also be part of the strong local contingent looking to become only the second SA player in seven years to win their home championship.

The last South African to lift the trophy was Brandon Stone, who won at Glendower in 2016, with the last home-grown winner before him being Hennie Otto, who triumphed at Serengeti in 2001.

South African players though have come close in the last few years with all of Grace, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Schwartzel, J’be Kruger, George Coetzee and Otto being runners-up.

Stone, Coetzee, Haydn Porteous, two-time winner Trevor Immelman, Dean Burmester, Erik van Rooyen, Darren Fichardt and Thomas Aiken will be back for another crack at the title, along with defending champion Chris Paisley from England.

Paisley’s biggest professional victory last season came after a stunning four days when he edged out Grace by three shots, with wife Keri on the bag.

One of the European Tour’s biggest stars of 2018, Matt Wallace of England, will be one of the favourites to go all the way at Randpark. He has won three times this year - the Indian Open, the BMW International and the Made in Denmark tournament - and also triumphed at the Portugal Open last May.

The SA Open will be tri-sanctioned by the European, Sunshine and Asian Tours this year and will be played at Randpark’s Bushwillow and Firethorn courses. Players will play each of the courses on Thursday and Friday, with the final two rounds played on the Firethorn course.

The tournament has merged with the Joburg Open, which was played at the same venue last December, with India’s Shubankhar Sharma coming out on top. Van Rooyen - recently announced as the Challenge Tour graduate of 2018 - was a popular runner-up.

With a total prize fund of R17.5-million up for grabs the 240 players have plenty to be excited about this week.

@jacq_west


Sunday Independent

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