Local stars eager to make an impact
The Sunshine Tour will field a full arsenal of seasoned professionals and rising stars against a strong European Tour challenge when the sixth Africa Open tees off at East London Golf Club from 14 to 17 February 2013.
European Tour regulars Jbe Kruger, Garth Mulroy and Thomas Aiken are determined to make sure the unique trophy remains on home soil and continue the country’s proud tradition in the €1-million European and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event.
The trio will go into the battle with a cast of other top South Africans as wingmen.
Among the local entrants are European Tour champions Darren Fichardt, James Kingston and Hennie Otto, Sunshine Tour winners Jaco van Zyl, Keith Horne and Trevor Fisher Jnr and Investec Cup leader, Jake Roos, who picked up three victories in three play-offs last year.
Eastern Cape local heroes Titch Moore and James Kamte will also be in the mix, looking to re-ignite their careers with success in Buffalo City.
Kruger said winning the Africa Open is a matter of honour for the South Africans.
“Although a lot of us campaign mainly in Europe, we are very proud of the fact that only South Africans have lifted the Africa Open trophy since it launched in 2008,” said Kruger. “You can bet we’ll do our best to stop our European Tour opponents from breaking tradition.”
Last year the Bloemfontein pro erased scored his breakthrough win at the European Tour’s Avantha Masters and finished the season ranked inside the European Tour’s top 50.
Kruger is determined to improve on his previous best third place finish in 2010 and a recent top 10 in Qatar could see the 26-year-old hit his stride in Buffalo City.
“Winning in Europe definitely gave me a confidence boost, and I’ll bring that confidence to East London,” he said.
“I’ve gained a lot of experience in Europe, learned some patience and matured a bit and I believe that will help me immensely this year. I’ve played well at East London in the past, but I’ve never converted it into a victory. Hopefully, things will turn out differently this time.”
Currently ranked 20th in Europe, Mulroy is just as keen to convert his return to East London into his second European Tour win.
The Umkomaas pro tied for 28th in 2008 and claimed a share of 34th last year, but he believes he has the experience to challenge this year. “I don’t have a great record in East London so far, but I think the more you play this course, the more you understand her moods,” he said.
“It’s a relatively short course, but the layout is deceiving. I think the course has favoured the South Africans in the past because we show the course the respect it deserves.”
Mulroy hopes he has paid his dues, because he wants to launch a proper challenge this year. “Winning early in the season gives your Race to Dubai rankings and your world rankings a good and proper boost. Since I don’t play that many events in South Africa, so it will give me a good foothold on the Order of Merit, too.”
Aiken finished the 2012 season ranked 54th in Europe and sixth on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit after a third place finish at the SA Open.
After a short break in December, the seven-time Sunshine Tour winner shook off the festive season rust with a tie for 22nd in Qatar. If his form improves, the 29-year-old Wanderers pro could challenge for a podium finish.
Past performances at the Africa Open certainly favours the 2011 Spanish Open champion, who finished second in 2010 and tied for 14th in the last two editions.
Tickets to this year’s Africa Open are available at the gate. Entry is free for children under 18 on Thursday and Friday and R5 for Saturday and Sunday. Adults also enter for free on Thursday and Friday and tickets cost R25 per day on the weekend.