It's your chance, young guns
By Neville Leck Last updated: 13th February 2013
With a good few big guns away in the US or taking a break ahead of next week's WGC-Match Play, this week's Africa Open gives the young guns of the European Tour their big chance.
For example, super-hot Richard Sterne would almost certainly have been the favourite with bookmakers like Paddy Power to win this week's Africa Open at East London Golf Club had he not won last week's Joburg Open.
But as things have turned out, that victory on Sunday in the fourth of the six European Tour events being played in South Africa this year has earned him a place in next week's WGC-Accernture World Match Play Championship at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Florida, and as a result he has perhaps wisely opted out of the Africa Open in order to get himself across the Atlantic in good time and to tune himself into the conditions he'll face at Doral.
For similar reasons, South Africa's most recent home-grown major winners, Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion and the winner of the Africa Open for the past two years, and Charl Schwartzel, the 2009 Masters champion and the winner at East London Golf Club in 2010, as well as other European Tour stars in the World's top 60 are giving the Eastern Cape a miss, meaning that those who like to bet on golf will have to back somebody new this weekend.
It's an unfortunate clash, but what it will do is give the rising stars of both South Africa and Europe a greater chance to grab a Tour title, pick up all the benefits that go with it, including a two-year Tour exemption, and climb some rungs on the world rankings list.
One of those local rising stars who could benefit is Pretoria's 33-year-old Jaco van Zyl, who has claimed a top-four finish in each of the last two Africa Opens and is a 10-time winner on the local Sunshine Tour, the co-sanctioner of this event.
Another is the diminutive Jbe Kruger, a 26-year-old Kimberley-born, Bloemfontein resident who has won titles on each of the European, Asian and Sunshine Tours and made the Top 10 in his last two Africa Open starts.
A third rising star is Trevor Fisher Jnr who gave Sterne such a demanding run for his money in the first and second rounds at last week's Joburg Open and will want to make up for the fact that he stumbled with a 73 in the final round which saw finish in joint eighth place.
And while on the subject of local contenders, let's not forget Tjaart Van der Walt, the runner-up to Oosthuizen here in East London last year, and some the country's other usual suspects like Thomas Aiken, Darren Fichardt, Garth Mulroy and the always dangerous veteran James Kingston.
As Kruger pointed out this week, "Being a co-sanctioned event, [The Africa Open] is a big thing for South Africans.
"And the fact that Louis [Oosthuizen] won it after winning The Open makes it even bigger to me. It's part of the biggest stretch of the year for the Sunshine Tour, and having the fans behind you definitely helps."
The Africa Open might not give some of Europe's brightest new upstarts as much fan support, but it certainly does give them a great chance of a first-time breakthrough and perhaps the overseas invader who shapes up as the greatest threat to a home-grown victory this week is Portugal's Ricardo Santos with last year's Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year looking to take his burgeoning career a step higher than his third place at the Joburg Open last week.
Another talented new-comer from overseas to take note of this week is 22-year-old English young gun Tommy Fleetwood, a former English Amateur Champion and Walker Cup player who finished sixth in the South African Open late last year and was 10th in last month's Dubai Desert Classic.
Right now Fleetwood, who had a plus five-handicap when he turned professional, has been looking a better prospect than Tom Lewis, another once-hot 22-year-old English prospect. Lewis hit the European Tour running two year's ago when he won €416,660 with his stunning maiden pro victory at the Portugal Masters in just his third Tour start, but has done very little since and his best finish so far this season was his 38th place at the Joburg Open.
This week's Africa Open will be followed in two week's time by the Tour's sixth event in South Africa this year, the Tshwane Open, a brand new tournament which is set to be played on an Ernie Els course, the spanking new Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate in Centurion near Pretoria.
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