Monday, 04 December 2017
Darren Fichardt  (Getty Images)
Darren Fichardt (Getty Images)

There are a host of firsts this week as the Joburg Open moves to a new venue, a new date in the European Tour International Schedule and becomes the maiden tri-sanctioned golf tournament on South African soil. Here’s the lowdown…

Rewind

Home favourite Darren Fichardt held his nerve to win the weather-affected Joburg Open and claim his fifth European Tour title, posting a four under par 68 to finish one shot clear of nearest challengers Stuart Manley of Wales and Englishman Paul Waring.

The tournament was reduced to 54 holes after thunder, lightning and subsequent course flooding at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club forced play to be abandoned before the leaders had started their third rounds on Saturday afternoon.

There was another two-hour delay before play resumed on Sunday morning and South African Fichardt, who began his third round tied at the top of the leaderboard alongside Waring, started brightly when he finally teed off, notching birdies at the first, sixth and eighth to get to 14 under.

Fichardt's lead was cut to a single stroke when Waring and Manley picked up shots at the 16th and 18th respectively, and he dropped into a share of the lead when he carded his only bogey of the day at the 17th after narrowly missing his tricky par putt. But he bounced back with a close-range birdie at the last to return to 15 under and secure victory.

By finishing in the top three, Fichardt, Manley and Waring all secured spots at The 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

The Field

South African Major winner Louis Oosthuizen heads the largest field on the European Tour this season, with over 200 players set to tee it up over two courses at Randpark Golf Club. It’s a new era for the event as it becomes only the second tournament to be tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, Asian Tour and Sunshine Tour - after the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open - and the first on South African soil.

Last year’s champion Fichardt returns to defend his title and he is joined by another three former winners of the event – fellow South Africans George Coetzee and Haydn Porteous, and three-time European Tour winner Anders Hansen of Denmark, whose last title came at this in tournament in 2009.

Recently-crowned Graduate of the Year Dylan Frittelli is seeking back-to-back wins, a third European Tour title and a first on home soil - having won last week’s AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open - and will no doubt provide inspiration to the eight newly graduated Challenge Tour players in the field, including Road to Oman winner Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland.

Other European Tour winners who will tee it up this week include England’s Matt Wallace, South Africans Thomas Aiken and Dean Burmester and Ashun Wu of China.

The Course

Randpark Golf Club will host the Joburg Open for the first time as the tournament moves away from its traditional home at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, which is undergoing extensive upgrades to its East Course. As well as a new venue the event has a new date, moving from its traditional position early in the calendar year to become the fourth event on the 2018 schedule.

Randpark is the only club in Johannesburg to have three golf courses - two distinctive 18 hole lay-outs known as Bushwillow and Firethorn and the nine hole Creek 9.The Joburg Open will be played over both the Firethorn and Bushwillow courses.

Firethorn is a true test of championship golf, with what is described as a ‘death or glory’ final three holes. It was established in the mid-1960s when Randpark Golf Club bought land adjacent to the existing Windsor Park course - now renamed Bushwillow - and turned it into a remarkable layout designed by a local professional golfer and course architect, Sid Brews. The course, which hosted the SA Open in 1995 and 2000, underwent green and aesthetical modifications in the early 1990s, with a further facelift at the turn of the millennium.

Bushwillow was founded in the 1940s during the second world war, and was originally a 12-hole layout. In 1948, the course was extended to a full 18 hole course, and four years later it underwent a complete overhaul by course designer Robert Grimsdell. In April 2012, in celebration of its 60th birthday, Bushwillow underwent a small renovation, changing the layout somewhat and adding new green complexes.

The picturesque course is fairly short from tee to green and very well protected by rows of large trees alongside all fairways, making for some tight and extremely challenging holes.

Did You Know

• The Joburg Open has the largest field of the season, with 240 players.

• This is the first time the Joburg Open has taken place in December and also the first time the tournament has taken place twice in the same calendar year. The 2017 edition took place back in February, while this week’s event is the fourth of the European Tour’s 2018 season.

• This is the first time in the history of the Joburg Open that it has taken place at Randpark Golf Club, and the first time it has taken place anywhere other than Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club.

• Fichardt will be looking to make a successful defence of his Joburg Open title, having triumphed back in February. He would be the second South African to win the title in back-to-back seasons, following Charl Schwartzel in 2010-2011.

• Of the 11 editions of the Joburg Open since 2007, eight of the champions have come from home soil.

• Indeed, South African players enjoy regular success at home European Tour events – four of the five events in South Africa in the 2017 season were won by home players – Alfred Dunhill Championship (Brandon Stone), Joburg Open (Fichardt), Tshwane Open (Burmester) and Nedbank Golf Challenge (Branden Grace). The BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni, meanwhile, was won by Englishman Graeme Storm.

• Richard Sterne will attempt to become the first player to win the Joburg Open three times, having triumphed in 2008 and 2013. Four of his six European Tour titles have come on home soil, including his last four.

• Following Frittelli’s victory at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open last week, if a South African were to win this week it would be the first time two South Africans have triumphed in consecutive weeks since January 2016, when Stone won the BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni before Porteous won the Joburg Open.

• Stone and Porteous’ victories in 2016 also marked the first time that South Africa witnessed two first-time winners on the European Tour in consecutive events since John Fourie (1977 Callers of Newcastle) and Tiene Britz (1977 German Open).

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1SHARMA, ShubhankarIND18-23
2VAN ROOYEN, ErikRSA18-20
T3NORRIS, ShaunRSA18-17
T3PULKKANEN, TapioFIN18-17
5ARMITAGE, MarcusENG18-15
T6HANSEN, Joachim B.DEN18-13

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