Kruger, Uihlein ready to chase Storm

The second round of the BMW South African Open was completed early on Saturday morning, with 68 players making the halfway cut of one under par.

England’s Graeme Storm still leads by two on 12 under, with American Peter Uihlein, and South Africans Jbe Kruger and Trevor Fisher Jnr his nearest challengers on 10 under.

And both Kruger and Uihlein in particular have plenty to prove in Saturday’s third round.

The newly-married Kruger says he’s been taking much of the inspiration from his solid performance this week from his new bride, Denise.

“She just brings a smile to my face when I stride down the fairways,” says Kruger.

And he’s not content with simply being the leading South African in the field either.

“I don’t want to be leading South African. I want to be the leading player overall once the last putt is holed on Sunday.”

Uihlein continued his encouraging return from injury. The American had battled through wrist pain in the early part of last season, achieving consecutive top tens in Malaysia, Australia and Thailand, but underwent surgery in May after his withdrawal from the Volvo China Open.

The 27 year old played just three more events in the 2016 campaign and after starting the new season with a missed cut at the Australian PGA Championship, finished 14th at the UBS Hong Kong Open.

That progress has continued at Glendower Golf Club with opening rounds of 70-64 leaving Uihlein just two shots off the lead, and he revealed playing with friends has been a major part of his recovery.

“I don’t like to lose a lot of money so I have had to be on my game at home! I have been feeling good so the expectations were pretty high coming here so I am pleased with where I am. I just need to keep it going for the weekend.”

World number two Rory McIlroy starts the third round three off the pace.

Ernie Els, Sir Nick Faldo and Retief Goosen all missed the cut. – Sunshine Tour/European Tour

Storm chases SA Open glory

England’s Graeme Storm will take a two-stroke lead into the weekend of the BMW South African Open while world number two Rory McIlroy is only three strokes behind after battling his way through a back injury.

Storm signed for a bogey-free 63 and a championship total of 12 under par on Friday. American Peter Uihlein and South Africans Jbe Kruger and Trevor Fisher Jnr are his nearest challengers on 10 under.

McIlroy is in a group on nine under, but after his 68 on Friday admitted he had played his way through a back injury. He rushed off for treatment immediately after his round.

“I’m sort of surprised I’m standing here. I was actually thinking about pulling out before the start of the round,” said a visibly uncomfortable McIlroy.

“I’ve tweaked my back somehow and the first few shots weren’t very comfortable. It’s still not comfortable. I can’t really take a deep breath because I’ve done something in my upper back. I’m going to get treatment now.”

McIlroy was two over through four holes but then pulled it back with an eagle and two birdies over the turn. He made four straight birdies from the 12th, but then closed with bogeys at holes 17 and 18.

“I don’t want to withdraw obviously because it would let a lot of people down, so that’s why I kept going today.”

Storm is relishing holding the lead after almost losing his European Tour card last season.

“The putter was hot – that was it,” said the Englishman. “It all went my way.”

Play was suspended because of lighting and will resume at 7:15 on Saturday morning.

The halfway cut is currently one under par. – MICHAEL VLISMAS

Sheer driving pleasure for Van Zyl after ace

South Africa’s Jaco van Zyl made the first hole-in-one of the 2017 BMW South African Open and won himself a BMW i8 at Glendower Golf Club on Friday.

Van Zyl aced the par-three 17th for the 16th hole-in-one of his career, but also by far the biggest prize he has ever earned.

“I hit an absolute perfect four iron. It came out the middle of the clubface and was dead on line,” said Van Zyl.

“I always knew it was going to be close. When it went in it was exciting, but I had a few doubts as to whether the car was on offer for the weekend or for all four days of the tournament. It was so much more sweeter knowing that it was for all four days of the tournament.

“This is by far the biggest prize I’ve won for a hole-in-one. The previous was a luxury fountain pen, so I’m really excited about this.”

Faldo takes first step towards making the cut

Sir Nick Faldo rolled back the years at the BMW SA Open proudly hosted by City of Ekurhuleni and then set his sights on making his first cut on the European Tour since 2007.

The six-time major championship winner has not played regularly on Tour since 2004 but looked like he had never been away at Glendower Golf Club as he posted a two under par 70 to sit just four shots off the lead in a share of 27th after day one.

The 59-year-old opened with a bogey but turned in 36 after a birdie on the seventh and then sent the sizeable crowd wild with back-to-back gains on the 15th and 16th to sit in a group that included fellow Ryder Cup captain and major winner Darren Clarke.

Faldo showed glimpses of the brilliance that brought him 30 European Tour wins and while admitting it was hard work at times, was glad to prove he could still perform at the top level.

“It’s enjoyable when you play well but it’s a test when you are constantly trying to make sure that everything is swinging towards the target,” he said.

“I had one bad swing that woke me up and made me push my way through some more shots and I am pleased with that.

“I know what I can do and how to do it but actually doing it is hard work. I have been working on my swing which is this little fade and I am basically testing myself to see if I can do it for the whole round.

“I would love to make the cut, that was the first goal.

“I know I can shoot that sort of round so I’ve just got to keep doing the same thing and play as solid as I can. If I play solid and put the ball in the right places I think I could shoot the same again.”

The former world number one has recently lost 20 pounds after being diagnosed with sleep apnoea and is happy to be keeping himself in shape six months short of his 60th birthday.

“I’m in decent fettle,” he added. “I was told to lose some weight because I had mild sleep apnoea so I have been on a low carb diet for about three months and have managed to get rid of 20 pounds which is great.

“I enjoy trying to stay fit so I am just trying to keep this old body moving.” – EUROPEAN TOUR

South Africans lead with McIlroy chasing

South Africans Trevor Fisher Jnr and Keith Horne shared the first round lead in a BMW South African Open that saw thousands streaming into Glendower Golf Club for a glimpse of world number two Rory McIlroy on Thursday.

McIlroy was off at 7:10 and was himself surprised to see so many people lining the fairways at this time.

“It’s nice to play in front of crowds like that, and it’s great that they are so enthusiastic and even getting out of bed at that time in the morning. It’s a pleasure to play in front of them,” McIlroy said after an opening five-under-par 67 that places him one behind Fisher Jnr and Horne.

McIlroy played the back nine first and turned in four under after making four straight birdies from the 14th. Although there were a few loose shots coming in, the Irishman declared himself satisfied with his start in this championship.

“It was good for the first competitive round of 2017. I felt like I gave myself a lot of chances on our front nine. That four under could’ve been six or seven. I was a bit scrappy around the last few holes, but five under is a good way to start the year and this tournament and hopefully I can build on it.”

McIlroy was certainly pleased with two areas of his game – his putting and his mixed bag of equipment.

“I’ve been working hard on my putting and from August last year to now it’s come on in leaps and bounds. I hit some good iron shots and some very good drives which was encouraging.

“The conditions were perfect. There was a score to be had, so I’m pleased with 67 but if we get conditions like this for the rest of the week I can definitely go lower.”

Fisher Jnr set the clubhouse target in the morning, and said it was the result of spending December working very hard on certain things and then doing completely the opposite on Thursday.

“It’s funny, what I worked on then I’m not doing now. You can work on something in this game and then a month later it’s not the thing you should be working on.”

And Horne was delighted with an opening performance he hadn’t expected.

“My practice rounds here didn’t promise much so it’s nice to get off to a good start. It’s nice to be in the mix.”

Also chasing the leaders on five under are South Africa’s Thomas Aiken, Dean Burmester and Jbe Kruger, and England’s Jordan Smith. Sir Nick Faldo also made a positive start as he opened with a round of two-under-par 70.

Defending champion Brandon Stone, playing with McIlroy, signed for an opening two-over-par 74 along with tournament host Ernie Els. – MICHAEL VLISMAS

All eyes on Rory

Ernie Els is as passionate as any South African golfer about the BMW South African Open trophy remaining in local hands, yet even he has to admit that Irish star Rory McIlroy is the obvious favourite heading into Thursday’s first round at Glendower Golf Club.

“Listen, it’s tough to go against Rory,” Els said, with all of the focus on the young Irishman and world number two at this year’s championship.

Els said he would love nothing more than to see defending champion Brandon Stone go head-to-head with McIlroy down the back nine on Sunday.

“I think it will be a wonderful match up. They’ll be looking at each other, obviously. Brandon obviously wants to start emulating what Rory has done in the game. So this will be a really good learning curve playing with Rory this week.”

Stone and McIlroy are in the same threeball (along with George Coetzee) for the first two rounds.

“Brandon has played wonderful golf. He won in December, he’s the defending champion here so he’s got a lot of confidence going for him. But with all due respect to what Brandon has achieved, it will be tough against Rory.”

Double South African Open champion Retief Goosen believes it may not be as cut and dried as this.

“You know, I don’t know how much Rory plays at altitude. It’s sometimes quite difficult to judge on some of these holes how far the ball is going to go at altitude. In a way I can probably see Rory overclubbing a bit on some of the holes here. You can’t believe how far the ball goes sometimes,” said the man who is a strong dark horse in this championship after finishing fourth last year.

And even McIlroy is dismissing talk of him being the favourite.

“I don’t really pay any attention to that kind of thing. There are some very strong players here. Brandon has been playing great over the last couple of months and even before that. He knows this course well and has played well on it before so I think he’ll have a great chance.”

The Glendower course will also have its say, with both Els and Goosen predicting a tough challenge this week.

“It’s soft and long. The rough is very thick and lush around the greens. But saying this, pros like a soft course because they can be aggressive,” said Els.

Goosen has been playing this golf course since his junior days, and admits he’d welcome a tough course this week.

“I always like a tough course. I know every inch of this golf course. It suits my eye, and a little bit of experience around here will help.” – MICHAEL VLISMAS

McIlroy Will Play 2017 SA Open

Ernie Els returned to his childhood home town on Tuesday ahead of the BMW South African Open Championship proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni and promised that he would have world number three Rory McIlroy playing the 2017 version of the tournament.

Els is player-host for the world’s second-oldest open championship in golf which will be played at Glendower Golf Club, and, when he played in last year’s Irish Open, which is similarly hosted by McIlroy, he got the Irishman to commit to returning the favour and playing in the SA Open.

“I thought I’ll leave him this year, but definitely next year we’ll get him down here, maybe put him up in Cape Town, have a good new year down there, and get him to come and play here,” said Els. “I gave him two years to do his thing, and he’s such a great friend of ours and a great supporter of our charity and stuff like that, and we might not even stop there. We’re looking at some other really great players. It’s coming, It’ll happen. I’m really excited about that.”

For now, Els is just happy to be back on his old stomping ground. “This area was my home for the first 20 years of my life,” he said, “and I’ve played so much golf here. I have so many great memories – you know South African Amateurs and the Glendower Silver Vase, the betterball I think it was – so I’m really up for it. I love this golf course, so hopefully I can play well.”

It was Els’ first year in his hosting role last year, and he believes he’s getting the hang of it. “We’ll do the discussions this week to see where it’s going to go,” said Els. “It might stay here Glendower, but we might move it around. We’ll see what the plan is.”

Whatever the plan is, Els is committed to playing in his home open championship for a long time to come. “From my point of view to play in the South African Open is always been a treat,” he said. “I did miss it for quite a few years. But I’m getting on and I can change my schedule a bit and I’ve made sure I’m going to be playing this event.”

SA Open Trophy’s Origins Not Clear

Stars such as Ernie Els, Branden Grace, Trevor Immelman, Andy Sullivan and George Coetzee will be competing for one of South Africa’s iconic trophies in the 105th BMW South African Open Championship proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni at Glendower Golf Club.

There is a record in an advertisement in 1909 which refers to the ‘Open Championship Floating Trophy’, which was to be held by the amateur or professional with the lowest score in the Open. But there is no indication, either then or since, in the SA Golf Association records regarding how or when the trophy was first acquired or by whom it was presented. It is referred to in all instances as the ‘Open Championship Cup’ or ‘Trophy’.

The South African Open was inaugurated in 1903 after a series of exhibition matches had been played in the decade prior to it. It is the second-oldest national open golf championship in the world, with the Open Championship being the oldest. It is also the second-oldest sporting competition in South Africa after the Currie Cup, which was first played for in 1893.

The tournament was a 36-hole event until 1908 when it became 72 holes. However, for the next 60 years it was a three-day event as 36 holes were played on the final day. It was only at the 1969 event at Durban Country Club that it became a four-day event – the format it still maintains today.

In 1997, the European Tour co-sanctioned the event for the first time and the tournament has remained co-sanctioned ever since. The tournament has grown over the years and now offers an impressive total prize fund of R15-million.

Over four decades, Gary Player won an astonishing 13 SA Open titles which is comfortably the most of any golfer. He and Bobby Locke hold the record for the most consecutive wins with five. Locke also holds the record for being the youngest winner courtesy of his triumph in 1935 when he was just 17, while Sid Brews is the oldest champion with his title in 1952 having come at the age of 53.

In 2011 Hennie Otto claimed his maiden SA Open title to continue South Africa’s dominance of the trophy since the turn of the century. Scotland’s Richie Ramsay broke an eight-year stranglehold that South African golfers had on the tournament when he won at Pearl Valley in 2009, but with Ernie Els winning in 2010 and Hennie Otto claiming victory a year later, the golfers from the Republic re-asserted their dominance.

But Sweden’s Henrik Stenson took the 2012 title from Coetzee at Serengeti and 2013 title was won by Denmark’s Madsen by two strokes from Otto and Jbe’ Kruger. The European contingent held strong in 2014 with Andy Sullivan claiming the title at Glendower Golf Club.

South Africa’s national open has a long and prestigious history, and getting one’s name on such a trophy is a proud achievement for any golfer, regardless of nationality. It will thus be all to play for at Glendower as the players in the field this week will be after the lucrative winner’s cheque of R2,377,500.

However, the player who lifts the trophy on Sunday will also join a wonderful list of champions and etch themselves in golfing history.

From Glendower Caddie to Nation-builder

On a scorching hot morning, Dr Stephen Mncube (photo: Tyrone Winfield) sat relaxing on a bench in the shade beside the tee-box at Glendower Golf Club’s par-three sixth hole.

The 75-year-old struggle veteran and self-confessed golf nut was enjoying himself – he was enjoying watching the action in the first round of the BMW South African Open Championship proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni, but he was also enjoying reminiscing about way back in the 1950s when he used to caddie at Glendower where he is now one of the club’s most illustrious members.

“I started out a caddie when I was just 10 years old,” Mncube recalled.

“I was a thin little chap with nice, clean short pants. Because I was so small, the caddie master would make sure I got the lightest bag.

“Bobby Locke was around in those days but I never got to caddie for him. We would get paid half-a-crown (two shillings and sixpence) for the round which would pay for my transport to and from school every day. Because I could speak good English, I’d sometimes charm the ‘madams’ and they’d give me an extra shilling, which was quite a bit of money in those days.”

After watching the players putt out, he continued.

“My father had few resources and couldn’t offer me much. But what he did do was encourage me to, as he put it, ‘develop my brain’. While other young boys would look around for half-smoked cigarettes, I’d hunt for thrown-out books in the garbage. I was able to establish a nice little library at home.”

Stephen’s family lived in what is now Hurleyvale but when the Group Areas Act came into force they were forced to move to Orlando where he spent his teenage years.

“To cut a long story short, living there and being exposed to men like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisuli, I became politicised. As an angry young man, I ran away to the refugee camps in Africa when I was about 19 or 20.”

While there – and by using his initiative and charm – he was able to land himself a scholarship to study in America at Syracuse University in upstate New York,I where he would earn his doctorate in information science. Mncube would spend 30 years studying and working in America until, in 1994, his friend Madiba urged him to return to South Africa.

He would subsequently become chairman of the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (Icasa) and also serve on the communication task team (Comtask) alongside, among others, FW de Klerk, Mandla Lange and Raymond Louw.

This task team travelled the world in a bid to promote South African goodwill.

Back to the golf at Glendower and Steve, as his golfing buddies call him, applauded enthusiastically as Jaco van Zyl hit a pinpoint tee-shot into the heart of the green at the sixth hole. Van Zyl would go on to shoot a sparkling seven-under-par 65 for the first round lead.

“I so love this game and I so love this country,” he said.

“A country which I left as an angry young man but now a country which I hold out so much hope for. We need unity and a sport, like golf, helps bring us together. I’m so pleased to have made a little bit of a difference to this country.

“God has been good to me and blessed me. I’m also so pleased to have had a lifelong love affair with golf. Thinking back, it was when I was a caddie way back here at Glendower that my journey started. This game has taught me so much about myself and about life.”

Shot of Day 1: Branden’s 4-iron

The 509-metre par-five second at Glendower Golf Club has long been rated as one of the great holes of South African golf.

Trees line the fairway and a stream hard on the left runs alongside the entire length of the hole, widening out into a small dam right next to the green. It’s reachable in two big shots for the professionals playing in the BMW South African Open proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni, but that little stretch of water just a few paces away from the putting surface makes for a treacherous approach, especially with a fairway wood or long-iron in hand. One slight mis-hit and you’re in the dreaded drink.

In yesterday’s first round there was an additional problem, as the players were hitting into quite a strong breeze by the time the threeball consisting of Jaco van Zyl, Branden Grace and Germany’s Marcel Siem arrived on the tee.

Van Zyl hit a cracker up the middle, Siem pulled his tee-shot left into the trees and then Grace outdid his playing partners by bombing a 300-metre drive 20 metres past Van Zyl.

Siem had to chip back onto the fairway en route to a par-5, while Van Zyl hit an exquisite three-wood to about 12 feet past the pin, setting up an eagle putt.

“Seeing Jaco’s great shot kind of got me going,” Grace would confess after the round, with a mischievous hint of an anything-youcan- do-I-can-do-better chuckle.

“I had 203 metres to the pin so I took a four-iron and aimed a low stinger a little right because when the ball hits the green it comes a little from the right.”

The execution was just perfect, precisely as the world’s 14th ranked golfer had planned, with the sweetly-struck ball finding the putting surface before gently rolling up to less than two feet from the cup. The shot of the day.

“I was bit rusty out there today after the Christmas break and hit some indifferent shots,” Grace admitted. “But that shot was the exception, one I won’t forget in a hurry.”

Van Zyl, to his credit, would roll in his eagle putt on his way to the clubhouse lead on seven-under-par 65 while Grace tapped in his tiddler for his three on his way to a 69 which leaves him on the front page of the leaderboard in the chase for the R2,4- million first place cheque.

“Yeah, I really enjoyed that little four-iron,” said Grace, “But all credit to Jaco who played some A-class golf out there.”