Tshwane Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
REGULAR readers of these columns will know that a certain Charl Schwartzel has been singled out for criticism by your correspondent for failing to live up to his gifts. Yes, he is a former Masters winner and yes he has won several tournaments on the European Tour and around the world, but the point is that he possesses so much talent that he should have three or four majors to name by now.
But 12 months ago, it all came right for the South African when he won the Tshwane Open by a staggering eight shots. It was one of those weeks where it all went right for Schwartzel. Sadly, it doesn't happen often enough.
The inaugural Tshwane Open was staged in 2013 and was won by another South African, Dawie van der Walt, in 2014 by Ross Fisher of England and in 2015 by George Coetzee, who will be among the favourites to win this week at Pretoria Golf Club.
Schwartzel went into the final round in 2016 with a one-shot lead but shot the lights out with a magnificent 63. He has bigger fish to fry this week and will be taking part in the WGC event in Mexico, meaning that we are certain to see a new champion.
With Europe's finest also otherwise engaged in Mexico, the field for Pretoria is not the strongest, but there are still plenty of top golfers jousting for a valuable victory. Coetzee leads the field and will surely produce another big week in his homeland. He loves playing in South Africa, in front of his home fans.
Coetzee sometimes gives the impression that he really doesn't care very much where he wins or shoots 80. The truth is that he is simply a fairly laidback character but he cares deeply about the way he performs. He should be in Mexico playing alongside the big boys but his world ranking has fallen alarmingly over the past 18 months. Only now is he beginning to show signs of his best again, and he will fancy his chances of winning for the second time.
But he will not have things his own way. A strong home presence includes Dean Burmeister, Hennie Otto, Haydn Porteous, Thomas Aitken, Jaco van Zyl and James Kingston. Aitken is a hugely consistent golfer who has won an awful lot of money in South Africa. He doesn't hit the ball terribly far but, crucially, he is accurate from the tee and is a wizard around the greens. He always seems to be there or thereabouts when playing in South Africa and is a master of reading the grainy greens that are such a feature in that part of the world. He is also a wonderful bunker player, as most South African golfers are.
Porteous is a bright prospect. Like Brandon Stone, he hits the ball miles and has a glorious golf swing. With one win under his belt already, he only needs to work out a way to be a little more consistent to become a regular visitor to the winners' enclosure.
Events such as this traditionally offer young golfers an opportunity to secure their card. Jordan Smith has already done enough to know that he will be playing on the European Tour next season. It means he can approach the rest of the season and focus on getting his first victory under his belt. The Englishman already looks totally at home in this company and has huge belief in his own ability. He will surely be the next golfer from England to get his hands on a trophy.
Smith graduated from the Challenge Tour. A player who did the same thing 12 months ago is Sebastien Gros. Unlike Smith, Gros struggled initially and had to work hard to retain his playing rights, but he kept his card and is improving all the time. Keep your eye on his progress this year.
Scotland's Richie Ramsay loves getting the sun on his back and is a much-improved player. The 33-year-old former US Amateur champion won his first European Tour title, the South African Open, in 2009. Since then there have been only two further victories, the last of which came in 2015. He recently became a father and it appears to have given him a new-found peace. He loves playing in South Africa and it would surprise nobody who knows him if victory number four arrived this week.
Look out, too, for Peter Uihlein. The American is playing on a medical exemption after a long battle with injury, but he is fighting fit once again and will be keen to get his career back on track as soon as possible. He is too good a golfer not to start winning again.
Thomas Aitken. Class act
Jordan Smith. Ferocious competitor
George Coetzee. Desperate to climb rankings
Thomas Aitken. South African specialist
Jordan Smith. Sure to win soon
George Coetzee. Classic swing
Richie Ramsay. Due another big week
Romain Wattel. Finished runner-up to Ramsay in two of the Scot's wins
Haydn Porteous. Bright prospect
Jaco van Zyl. Rhythm to die for
Marc Warren. Showing signs of life
Peter Uihlein. Fully recovered from injury
Sebastien Gros. Growing into life on tour
Tags: european tour
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