The weather has improved sufficiently for the Joburg Open to tee off on schedule at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club on Thursday morning with many people asking whether it will be 153rd time lucky for Jaco van Zyl.
The South African turns 38 on Thursday and a victory would be a dream birthday present for Van Zyl, as well as being a maiden European Tour title.
It would be timely relief for the Kokstad-born golfer, who has accumulated 10 top-three finishes, including being runner-up on five occasions, during his previous 152 starts on the tour.
There have been some frustrating final-round meltdowns, but a 68 in the last round of the Qatar Masters three weeks ago, for a place in the playoff with eventual winner Jeunghun Wang and Joakim Lagergren, has provided serious hope.
“It really feels like I have broken through that extra barrier, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable leading and I feel like I can be in charge instead of backing off a bit. I think a win is really close,” said Van Zyl.
“It doesn’t matter how good you are or how well-prepared you are, if you don’t feel like you belong here then you are not going to achieve.”
There have been seven South African winners in the 10 editions of the Joburg Open, which joined the co-sanctioned calendar in 2007, with Van Zyl hoping to join defending champion Haydn Porteous, George Coetzee, Richard Sterne (twice), Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel (twice) as local champions.
“I think there will be a local winner because it’s always hard to beat a South African on home soil. If it’s not me, I’m sure someone else will step up and deliver,” said Van Zyl.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the locals will come from Graeme Storm, who will look to emulate his fellow Englishman Andy Sullivan (2015) in claiming consecutive wins on South African soil.
“It’s good to be back as SA Open champion and my game’s in good shape, I’ve played quite nicely even though I missed a couple of cuts. I put that down to fatigue really, it took a lot out of me winning the SA Open, beating Rory McIlroy in a playoff,” said Storm
“I love the golf courses at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington and I shot 62 once on the West Course to make the cut by one shot, so I’m looking forward to playing them. If the bad weather hangs around, then I think the scoring will not be as good as in previous years because it will be so soft.”
There are three major champions in the field in Darren Clarke, Trevor Immelman and YE Yang, and South African Immelman will be looking to roll back the years as he tries to win his first title since winning the Hotel Fitness Championship on the Web.com Tour in 2013.
“My game is improving, so I’m hopeful. But I wouldn’t say with the results I’ve produced over the last couple of years that expectations are all that high. But I’m always working hard and I’m looking forward to a good week,” the 37-year-old Immelman, who has been plagued by injuries, said.
But while Van Zyl would be a popular winner, there are other South Africans in the field who are quite capable of claiming their first co-sanctioned title.
Dean Burmester is refusing to be put off by his 41st-place finish last time out at the Qatar Masters, focusing instead on his seventh-place in Abu Dhabi and fourth in the SA Open, which suggests he could be a strong contender.
Thomas Aiken is always in the picture.
SA Open winner Brandon Stone, the highest-ranked golfer in the field, and former champions Sterne and Coetzee obviously can’t be ignored, while Trevor Fisher Junior likewise has form and pedigree on his side.