South African Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
The tournament is one of the oldest open golf championships in the world, having first been played in 1903. It was won an incredible 13 times by Gary Player between 1956 and 1981 and his fellow South African Bobby Locke win it nine times. However, with South Africa at the centre of a new strain of Covid, the tournament has been removed from the DP World Tour schedule and will now go ahead as a Sunshine Tour event.
Back in 2020, Christiaan Bezuidenhout was following in the footsteps of some pretty illustrious company. It was also his second successive victory, having claimed the previous week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
Image Credit: Kevin Diss
Five shots ahead going into the final round, Bezuidenhout overcame a tentative outward half which saw his lead down to three by the turn at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, and he began the back nine with three consecutive birdies to restore his commanding advantage. He picked up one further shot at 16 and enjoyed a couple of fortunate bounces in another composed 69 which capped a convincing victory over Jamie Donaldson, whose outright runner-up finish earned him a place in the following week's season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
But although Donaldson won the race for second, he was unable to apply significant pressure on the leader, who could have been forgiven for thinking the golfing Gods were against him when his six-foot birdie putt on the first hole circumnavigated most of the hole but refused to drop.
Content to grind out the pars and keep the mistakes at bay, Bezuidenhout would have been keeping a cautious eye on Donaldson in the group ahead, with the Welsh veteran making birdies at three of the first five holes but also a bogey at the fourth.
Bezuidenhout's bogey at the eighth was just his third blemish of the week, but his lead remained a comfortable three shots at the turn when Donaldson failed to save par at the ninth and slipped backed to one under for the final day.
With Dylan Frittelli struggling to find the short grass from the tee with driver, fairway-wood or long-iron, Bezuidenhout ignored the plight of his playing-partner and picked up a welcome first birdie of the round at the 10th. The 26-year-old birdied the next two holes to effectively put the result beyond doubt, with Donaldson gaining the upper hand to be the best of the rest, making birdies at the 11th, 14th and 16th before giving another back at 17.
But that scarcely mattered as a par at the last completed a 69 that was enough to secure outright second on 13 under, with Frittelli defying his waywardness off the tee to scramble a number of pars and somehow get round in red numbers, a birdie at the last adding up to a 71 and earning him the final podium place on 11 under par.
Dean Burmester also closed with a birdie and a 71 to finish fourth, with JC Ritchie making it four South Africans in the top five despite three late bogeys in his disappointing 72.
The tournament, however, belonged to Bezuidenhout as he stormed to fifth in the Race to Dubai with his second victory in a row on home soil, becoming the first player to win two consecutive events on the European Tour since Justin Rose in 2017.
“IT IS unbelievable to stand here with an Open win. It's any South African golfer's dream to win a national tournament. It's unreal.” With those words, an emotional Christiaan Bezuidenhout summed up his victory in the South African Open championship last year. "I fought hard today, the front nine things didn't really go my way and I just dug deep to come out with a win today. I knew I had to make pars coming in and I did it. I'm really, really chuffed to stand here as a winner.”
2021 South African Open
And Bezuidenhout will return to the Gary Players Country Club as one of the favourites to make a successful defence. He is now dividing his time between the PGA and European Tours. It is a difficult balancing act but the South African finished fifth at the BMW PGA Championship. H played in 12 events on the PGA Tour during the 2020-21 season and made the cut every time, with a best finish of tied seventh at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He also made the cut at all four majors. The 27-year-old is a wonderful ball striker, a terrific bunker player and a wonderful putter. He also has a perfect temperament.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. As an amateur, Bezuidenhout received a drug suspension after testing positive for beta blockers at the 2014 Amateur Championship. Bezuidenhout was using them for anxiety and a stutter after an accidental poisoning at the age of two. The suspension was originally for two years, but was later reduced to nine months but Bezuidenhout still struggles with a stammer, preferring to let his golf do the talking.
Garrick Higgo will he hoping to deny Bezuidenhout to cap what has been a sensational year for the 22-year-old left-hander. He won the Portugal Masters in 2020 and followed it up with victories at the Gran Canaria Open and Canary Islands Championship earlier this year. Unbelievably, he then headed across the Atlantic and promptly won on the PGA Tour. Higgo is in dreamland right now, a young man with the world at his feet. And he is certain to be inspired by the prospect of performing in front of a home crowd.
The South African Open was won in 2015 by Brandon Stone, in 2016 by Graeme Storm, in 2017 by Chris Paisley, in 2018 by Louis Oosthuizen, in 2019 by Branden Grace and last year by Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Dean Burmester finished seventh at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and sixth at the DP World Tour Championship, where he was the model of consistency with four rounds of 69. There are not many golfers who are more consistent than Christiaan Bezuidenhout. He just doesn’t miss cuts. This hasn’t been his best season but he can never be written off and will be hugely motivated at the prospect of returning to defend his title.
The Gary Player Country Club at Sun City is a monstrous par 72 measuring 7,981 yards but the thin air means the ball travels further than it would do in Europe. Widely regarded as being one of the best courses in the world, it was designed by Player and features plenty of trees, shrubbery and water. Lee Westwood set the course record of 62 in 2011.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Looking for a successful defence
Dean Burmester. Hits the ball a mile
Garrick Higgo. Has every shot in the book
Five to Follow:
Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Impressive South African
Dean Burmester. Would love to win his home open
Garrick Higgo. Fabulous short game
Richard Sterne. Feisty little South African
Sean Norris. Big hitter
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