Will the SA major drought come to an end at the Masters?
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JOHANNESBURG - Four South Africans will carry the hopes of a nation - experiencing a major drought of nine years - as The Masters begins at Augusta on Thursday.
As Australian Adam Scott missed a seven-footer to force a playoff, it meant Ernie Els had just won his fourth major at The Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012 - it was also the third major win by a South African in as many years.
A fresh-faced 27-year-old Louis Oosthuizen romped to a seven-shot victory to announce his arrival on the world golfing stage in The Open at St Andrews in 2010. Good friend and rival Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes in a row to win the 2011 Masters at the age of 26, and Els went on to claim a surprise victory the next year at The Open at the age of 42.
Flash forward to 2021, and it’s been nine years since that incredible, emotional triumph of the ‘Big Easy’ and which was also the last major win for the Rainbow Nation.
However, just a handful of South Africans will carry the flag this week. Once again, though, Oosthuizen will lead the SA charge. He will be joined in the field by Schwartzel, Dylan Frittelli and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Since Els won in 2012, Oosthuizen has come closest to winning a major - as his record in the big four events grows evermore impressive. Since his playoff defeat to American Bubba Watson in 2012 at The Masters, Oosthuizen has gone on to finish second at the US Open and The Open in 2015 and PGA Championship in 2017.
It means Oosthuizen has finished second at every major championship, which also included another playoff defeat in the 2015 Open Championship, when American Zach Johnson triumphed.
In total, Oosthuizen has eight top-10 finishes in the majors.
The 38-year-old has nine wins on the European Tour, and his 2010 Open Championship victory also counts as his only PGA Tour victory.
Oosthuizen doesn’t have much form coming into The Masters, from the six events he’s played on the 2021 PGA tour - he has two top-15 finishes. However, Oosthuizen always tends to raise his game in the majors and his odds of 60/1 for the win means he will come in under the radar - which is exactly the way he likes it.
The 26-year-old Bezuidenhout is around the age that South Africans tend to win their first major. He too is rapidly rising up the rankings, which could mean he is ready to give American commentators a headache as they attempt to pronounce his surname on the first page of the leaderboard.
He also has four majors under his belt now with a best finish of tied-38th at The Masters last year. The three-time European Tour event winner is 35th in the world rankings, and is just behind the top-ranked SA player Oosthuizen who is 28th.
Then there is Frittelli. Already a winner on the PGA Tour, the 30-year-old has already produced on the major stage with his tied-fifth place at last year’s Masters which was held just five months ago.
In fact, Frittelli held a share of the lead after the first round with an opening seven-under 65. He would follow that with rounds of 73 67 and 72 to finish on 11-under alongside Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy. He will have learnt from that experience of contending in a major, and there are plenty reasons to suggest that he will improve on that impressive showing.
First off will be Frittelli at 2.12pm SA time, playing alongside Scotland’s Sandy Lyle and Australian Matt Jones. An hour later Schwartzel will be off in the group featuring Si Woo Kim of South Korea and Canadian Corey Conners. Bezuidenhout will tee off at 4.18pm SA time with Spaniard Sergio Garcia and American Webb Simpson.
In the second last tee time of the first round, Oosthuizen will be paired alongside Americans Justin Thomas and Tony Finau at 7.48pm SA time.
African News Agency