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Golf | European Tour

Brandon Stone © Getty Images

Stone gears up for McIlroy clash

There may have been a touch of hyperpole when a couple of pundits called him ‘the hottest golfer in the world right now’, but Brandon Stone certainly appears to have all he needs in his armoury as he sets off on Thursday in defence of his title in the BMW SA Open hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni.

That world No 2 Rory McIlroy is in the field – in fact, he’s in the same match as Stone, together with George Coetzee off the 10th at Glendower Golf Club at 7.10am – doesn’t faze the 23-year-old Stone who stormed to a two-stroke victory over Christiaan Bezuidenhout last year.

“This is only the second time I’ve been back to Glendower since the SA Open, so obviously there are a lot of memories flooding through the system which is quite enjoyable,” he said.

“But Glendower has always been a place I enjoy going to; it’s always been a place I’ve played well at, so hopefully I can try and replicate last year’s results this year.”

And while McIlroy starts every tournament in which he tees it up as one of the favourites, he said he would be keeping a wary eye on Stone.

“There are a lot of good players this week,” he said. “Brandon Stone and Andy Sullivan obviously have a bit of form round here and then you just never rule out guys like Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

“I know that if I play the way I can then I will have a good chance to win but I need to make sure I concentrate on getting myself into that position on Sunday afternoon.”

But, for Stone, it’s all about concentrating on his own game, and working on stepping up a level after a great year in 2016 which saw him win twice on The European Tour – the BMW SA Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championship – and become an Olympian.

“Now it’s 2017 and not 2016 anymore,” he said. “Reset goals; a lot more aspirations, the bar has been lifted and I’ve got to try and live up to that now.

“Rory obviously hits the ball miles and while I’m not long, I’m not short,” said Stone. “I might be close to him pound-for-pound but so long as I have my feet on the ground, I’m not going to out-drive him.

“The key when you play with guys like that is managing your game and concentrating on your own strengths. Often if you’ve got the adrenaline of a big group or a big atmosphere you hit the ball five or ten yards further. It’s important to be aware of that.”

Stone against McIlroy – it could end up being a battle for the ages.


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