Wednesday, 06 January 2016
Branden Grace   (Getty Images)
Branden Grace (Getty Images)

The home contingent are hoping to see a South African winner at The BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni when The European Tour gets 2016 under way at Glendower Golf Club.

There has not been a South African victor since Hennie Otto lifted the trophy in 2011 with Henrik Stenson, Morten Ørum Madsen and Andy Sullivan taking the title back to European shores in the last three events.

But Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman and Retief Goosen have won this event nine times between them and World Number 14 Branden Grace is eager to add his name to the list of winners at the world's second-oldest national Open.

As a South African this is the one tournament you want to win. There have been some big names on the trophy and there's a lot of history behind this event - Branden Grace

"Every South African that's playing this event or growing up playing the game of golf, will want to win this one tournament. A couple of my mates are on the trophy, so hopefully I can be up there or be a name on the trophy soon."

Els has claimed three of his South African Open titles since the event joined The European Tour International Schedule in 1997, with 12 home wins in 19 stagings, and the two-time Order of Merit winner is predicting a strong home challenge.

"We pride ourselves on winning our national Open for so many years," he said. "The last few years now the foreigners have kind of come in and taken our cup and Charl (Schwartzel) came so close last year with Andy (Sullivan) hitting that unbelievable shot out of the trees.

"Then Mr Madsen won the tournament a couple years before that. Richie Ramsay also got his name on the trophy, so a lot of the foreigners have started taking over here and I know the guys want to claim the cup, so to speak, and we've got a lot of the guys here.

"We've got Trevor back this week, we've got Hennie, we've got Branden who hasn't won it and I know how desperately he wants to win it. We've got George Coetzee and a lot of the other youngsters, and watch out for some of these amateurs playing this year, there are some really good players."

Grace will be expected to lead the home charge after finishing third in last season's Race to Dubai and he has four top tens in his last five European Tour events.

The 27 year old went straight from the Final Series to play in both the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Nedbank Golf Challenge before Christmas, but he is now feeling refreshed after the festive break.

"I had a very big and a very busy end to the 2015 season," he said. "I think six events in a row with a lot of travelling and some big tournaments as well. It's a lot of concentration and things like that but I had a big break which was needed.

"The game is still a little bit rusty, but hopefully I can get around it. I played a couple of rounds in the holidays just with some friends, but after today I'll be in a better frame of mind going into the week."

Grace's brilliant 2015 included two top ten finishes in Major Championships and, while he is also aiming to get into the top ten in the World Ranking, the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters champion is aiming for glory on the biggest stage of all.

"The bigger picture is definitely trying to be in contention in the Majors again. I was very close, I was a lot closer than people think," he said. "I'm looking forward to those challenges.

"But any event back home is a good one to win. If you get off to the right start, you never know how the year can go forward."

Goosen and Immelman know a thing or two about winning Majors, with Goosen having won two US Open Championships and Immelman having a Green Jacket in the locker room at Augusta.

Immelman's triumph in Georgia came in 2008, the last time he played in this event, and the 36 year old is delighted to be back.

"I'm excited to be back and looking forward to it this week. I haven't played here in a while," he said.

"It's a strong golf course from start to finish with lots of demanding par fours and par threes. The par fives are reachable so you can make some scores there, although there is some water around the greens.

"The secret is going to be in the par fours and par threes. You'll have a lot of drivers off the tees and long and middle irons into the par fours and par threes. You're going to have to execute your long game really well so it's going to be a stern test."

Goosen is also expecting a stern examination and is hopeful of seeing a home winner come Sunday.

"It's a golf course that you need to drive it well and putt well," he said. "It's a pretty long course, difficult out of the rough. It's one of the better courses we play.

"It's one of the oldest events in the world with a great history and great champions. It's always been a special event for South Africans specifically. You definitely want to win your home event.

"There are a few guys who have performed really well overseas and down here on the local circuit so hopefully we'll see a South African as the South African champion by Sunday."

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1STONE, BrandonRSA18-14
2BEZUIDENHOUT, ChristiaanRSA18-12
3BROOKS, DanielENG18-11
T4GOOSEN, RetiefRSA18-9
T4GRACE, BrandenRSA18-9
T4WALTERS, JustinRSA18-9

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