Ahead of this week's inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa, europeantour.com puts the spotlight on five men to watch out for in the 2013 season-opener at Royal Durban Golf Club.
The man coming into the opening event of the 2013 season with the most recent cause for celebration, John Parry, will be looking to maintain the good feeling provoked by his success at last week’s European Tour Qualifying School Final Stage in northern Spain, where the Englishman swept to a four shot victory at PGA Catalunya Resort to retain his playing privileges in some style. It’s been an up and down couple of years for the 26 year old who, after winning the Vivendi Cup in his maiden season on The European Tour in 2010, narrowly missed out on his card after finishing 126th in The Race to Dubai the following year. Parry finished 37th in the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2012 but secured a return to the top tier of European golf along with 27 other qualifiers following the gruelling six-round marathon in Girona. Will be playing alongside two of his 2007 Walker Cup team-mates and fellow European Tour Champions Rhys Davies and David Horsey this week in South Africa.
After beginning his second season on the Challenge Tour in fairly modest fashion in 2012, with just three top 20 finishes in the first six months of the year, Espen Kofstad sprang into life as back-to-back rounds of 65 propelled him to victory at the Double Tree by Hilton Acaya Open in Italy last July and the Norwegian has refused to look back ever since. Further top tens followed in England, Finland and Spain before a tied fifth finish at the penultimate event of the season in Copenhagen preceded a rip-roaring climax at the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, where a second victory of the year in the southern Italian region of Puglia – and the €56,650 cheque that came with it – saw the Oslo man jump from 11th place into top spot and with it become the first Norwegian Challenge Tour Number One. “I’m really excited to get going and about what lies ahead this year,” he said. “I cannot wait to test myself against the world's best players.” His campaign to become the latest in a long line of Challenge Tour success stories begins this week in Durban.
What is left to say about Branden Grace that hasn’t already been said over the last, astonishing 12 months? It is not yet a year since the South African secured the 11th card at the 2011 Qualifying School Final Stage but since then Grace has won four events on The European Tour, a total of five titles worldwide and accrued not far off €3m in earnings. Quite a turn around, then, after finishing 2011 307th in the Official World Golf Ranking with Challenge Tour season earnings of around €60,000. The Pretorian is now up to 36th in the World Ranking after capping a remarkable season with a sixth place finish at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, two weeks ago, with his fine wins at the Joburg Open, Volvo Golf Champions, Volvo China Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship carrying him to sixth in The 2012 Race to Dubai. Quite the inspiration for this year’s Qualifying School batch making their debut 2013 bows in Durban…
Good friends with Branden Grace and becoming increasingly consistent on The European Tour in the last two seasons if not in quite as spectacular fashion as his countryman, Pretoria’s George Coetzee has won four times on his native Sunshine Tour but is still without a victory on the European circuit despite coming close on a number of occasions – most recently at the SA Open Championship in November. Coetzee finished second at Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate last month, three shots behind Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, to claim his best of eight top eight finishes on The 2012 Race to Dubai in his national Open. 2012 was his most successful year to date on The European Tour, securing season earnings over €1m for the first time to finish 21st in The Race to Dubai while also ascending to a career-high 49th in the World Ranking. Could the inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship provide his breakthrough victory this week?
Possibly a little-known name on The European Tour (currently anyway), 25 year old Durban native Bryce Easton has proved one of the revelations of the year on the Sunshine Tour, capturing his first two professional titles – and in stunning fashion, too. Easton, who was a member of the Junior Golf Foundation in Durban and used to play at this week’s host course every Saturday morning while growing up, claimed a maiden victory at the 2012 Sun City Challenge in May after making an eagle at the testing par five 18th to force a play-off. Faced with another daunting trip down the 18th in the first play-off hole, he once again faded in a beautiful approach to ten feet – a chance that he duly accepted to card his second consecutive eagle and with that the title was his. Made it two in three weeks at the Vodacom Origins – Zebula shortly after that, so with championship pedigree behind him Easton could certainly be one to watch out for as he looks to make it a 2012 hat-trick at Royal Durban.