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Jaco's a good bet
By Neville Leck Last updated: 26th February 2013
If winning majors is going to count the most, Northern Ireland's Darren Clark and New Zealand's Michael Campbell will be the men to beat in this week's inaugural Tshwane Open.
But if current form and local knowledge is going to be the major criterion at the sparkling new Ernie Els Club at the Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate at Centurion outside of Pretoria, you might want to look to locals like Jaco van Zyl and Darren Fichardt to bring home the bacon and give South Africa a fifth victory in the sixth and final European Tour event to be played inside its borders this season.
Clarke, the 2011 Open winner and a Ryder Cup hero of old, will be seeking to add a second victory to his South African first at the Dimension Data Pro-Am 12 years ago, while Campbell, the 2005 US Open Champion has been sending out some solid signals that his nightmarish and well-documented slump is a thing of the past.
He was a strong, final-round contender in both the UBS Hong Kong Open towards the end of last season and the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters last month.
Neither Clarke now Campbell have won a European Tour event in South Africa, but winning Tour titles is nothing new to them. Between the two, they have picked up a total of 22.
Pretoria-born and raised Van Zyl, on the other hand, is still looking for his first European Tour victory, but after his second-place finish behind Fichardt in the Africa Open earlier this month and his 11th Sunshine Tour victory last week in the Dimension Data Pro-Am, he's hoping to come out at Copperleaf on Thursday with all guns blazing
"I've been getting better every week, and now I'm really looking forward to the Tshwane Open.
"To go there on the back of a win gives me great confidence that I can get my first victory on The European Tour," the europeantour.com reported him as saying after his one-shot win over England's Daniel Brooks on Sunday.
Fichardt, currently 17th in The Race to Dubai, is another local favourite who is unlikely to be short of confidence this week
The most recent winner of the four South Africans who have won European Tour events in the Republic this season - the others are Charl Schwartzel (the Alfred Dunhill Championship), Louis Oosthuizen (the Volvo Golf Champions) and Richard Sterne (the Joburg Open) - Fichardt, is seeking to capture his fifth European Tour title this week - and with most of his country's biggest guns in the US right now, building up for the up-coming Masters, he has every reason to believe that his chances are good.
Mind you, winning on a course that stretches up to a long 7 791 yards is not going to be easy for anybody.
Not against a field that includes a potent mix of oversees invaders and home-grown aspirants that along with Van Zyl and Fichardt, include Thomas Aiken, Garth Mulroy and Hennie Otto.
Tour winners all, the overseas visitors include the likes of Joost Luiten of the Netherlands, Denmark's Søren Keelson, India's Jeev Milkha Sing, Italy's Edoardo Molinari, Ireland's Michael Hoey, Spain's Pablo Larrazabal and England's Steve Webster, Robert Rock, Tom Lewis, Simon Dyson, Oliver Fisher and David Horsey.
Also back in action this week is Danny Willett, who has yet to win but has been making waves on Tour leader-boards all year.
Newcomers in the field looking to spark successful Tour careers are three of the Challenge Tour stars of last year, three-time winner Kristoffer Broberg of Sweden, Norway's Espen Kofstad and England's Gary Lockerbie.
The bookies? How do they see it?
If you go to bettingzone.oddschecke you'll see that at odds that vary between 12 and 14 to one, Van Zyl is their clear-cut favourite.
Aiken and Mulroy share second place at 18/1 with Fichardt and Englishman Steve Webster and Simon Dyson the next best at odds in the low 20s to one.
And the weather?
Don't expect perfect sunny days. Golfweather.com says there could be afternoon thunderstorms with a 30 per cent chance of rain on each of the four days, so while there may be some delays for lightening, neither the event nor the players are expected to take too much strain.
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