Omens good for South African duo
Before the start of play in the final round of the Africa Open Golf Challenge at East London Golf Club, two South Africans – Darren Fichardt and Jaco van Zyl - sat pretty in a share of a two-stroke lead. Of course, just two of the nine players below them come from local shores, and a strong foreign contingent are looking to clinch victory on South African soil.
Statistics seldom count for much in the heat of battle, but the signs are good for the leading duo. Van Zyl is still to claim his maiden European Tour title, but enjoys a proud record at the Africa Open, with two top-four finishes in the previous two years. He also comes into the event on the back of a top-10 finish at the Joburg Open last week.
Fichardt already boasts three European Tour victories. One of these was at the 2012 Saint-Omer Open in France, in which he seized control on day four in gale-force winds. A fresh easterly wind on Sunday may just inflate the rest of the field’s scores more than that of the 37-year old’s.
All three of Fichardt’s victories have come when he has enjoyed at least a share of the lead going into the final round, and he has never failed to come out on top when in that position.
South Africans have enjoyed sustained dominance of co-sanctioned events since the first one in 1995. In 51 events previously, 31 have seen a South African coming out on top.
It is also not only on South African soil where our players have been successful. Those victories make up less than a third of the total of 113 South African triumphs on the European Tour. But it is more recently that they have displayed their dominance. South Africa has enjoyed 12 victories in the last 13 months, with Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Jbe Kruger, Fichardt, Ernie Els and Richard Sterne all getting their names engraved on at least one trophy in that time. In fact, South Africans have already come out on top in three of the first seven events this season.
And, if that’s not enough, take note of this. Last week, Sterne’s victory at the Joburg Open capped off four successive seasons with a South African winner of the same event. Victory for either of the leaders would thus make the Africa Open the second consecutive event where a South African has won four years in a row.
Of course, the Africa Open was only co-sanctioned from 2010. The event was inaugurated in 2008 at the Fish River Sun Country Club, where Pretoria’s Shaun Norris emerged as the victor. The following year, it was Retief Goosen who came out on top, and South Africans thus enjoy a 100 per cent record in the event.
And, with two in-form veterans flying the flag in the final pairing, there seems no reason why that should change today.