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Golf | SA

Keith Horne © Gallo Images

Horne looking for repeat at Telkom PGA

Keith Horne heads into this week’s Telkom PGA Championship hunting repeat success and the defending champions says he is ready to renew his competitive rivalry with Darren Fichardt, one of the three players who chased him to finish line at Country Club Johannesburg last year.

“I think the way Darren is playing at the moment, he will definitely be in the mix come Sunday,” Horne predicted. “Darren is a gritty competitor and, if Richard (Sterne) tees it up, he will be right there, too.”

But Horne believes he has the experience, accuracy and a hot putter to make it two-in-a-row at the Woodmead course.

“To win here, you are going to have to make birdies,” he said. “I won on 19 under, Louis Oosthuizen’s one win came at 27 under. This isn’t the kind of course where you can’t sit back and play solid golf. “You’ve got to get aggressive. You need a hot putter, you need to hit a lot of fairways and you have to give yourself lots of chances or you will get left behind.

“I’m hitting it well, the putter is behaving. I’m pretty confident going into the week.”

Horne says he is still riding a purple patch that started with his three shot victory 12 months ago.

“That Sunday, I won just over R500 000, a five-year Sunshine Tour exemption, and it also kick-started my career back into high gear,” he said. “A lot of good things have happened to me since I lifted the trophy last year.”

The 41-year-old Gauteng golfer often calls himself a “late bloomer”. Considering that he only turned pro at 27, the label is probably appropriate.

“My parents wanted me to get an education first, so first I did two years of compulsory army training, then four years at university where I qualified as a labour lawyer and then I worked with Hugh Baiocchi at Prince’s Grant for two years before I turned pro,” Horne explained.

“I guess that’s pretty late by modern standards, but then, I’m known for doing things backwards.”

Horne won his first event in 1998, but it was nearly a decade before he would win again at the 2007 MTC Namibia PGA Championship. That victory sparked two more - the 2008 Nashua Golf Challenge and 2010 Invested Royal Swazi Open – before his biggest career win at Country Club Johannesburg last year.

At home, Horne has consistently improved his Order of Merit rankings and finished the 2012 season ranked 12th, but frequent stints on the Asian Tour also aided his entry onto the European Tour, where he ended last season ranked 92nd in the Race to Dubai.

For Horne, his 2012 season was undoubtedly the best of his career.

“After the Telkom PGA, I signed with a sport management company, Lumenrock Sport Management International, for the first time in my career,” he said. “They got me a full summer sponsorship from Toco, which took a lot of pressure off.

“Then I had those two hole-in-ones at Leopard Creek and that kind of changed my life, again. I won the car and let me tell you, BMW gave me a car with all the bells and whistles. Lumenrock organised me full insurance for the car through Renasa.

“So, in one year, I won a South African Major, got five years exemption at home, kept my card for Europe, made two aces, won a spectacular BMW, full insurance and a summer sponsorship. And it wasn’t even Christmas, yet.

“It was everything that I had been working towards, in my own backwards way. I may be pushing 42 but I believe my best is still to come.”

But Horne could right when he says Fichardt could pose the biggest threat.

Enjoying his own purple patch, the 37-year-old won the Africa Open in January and vaulted to 75th in the world rankings after his runner-up finish at the Tshwane Open two weeks ago.

The February European Tour Player of the Month is in the best form of his career. Like Horne, Fichardt believes his best is still to come.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been at 100 per cent playing here as I am now,” he said. ““The whole game has been coming together for some time and it’s been great to see all my hard work starting to show on the scorecard. Hopefully I can maintain this momentum and continue to ride the wave.”

“Over here, it’s just putting. Winning any tournament is all about putting and chipping and iron play. I’ll just take this confidence into the tournament and see where it takes me.”


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