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20 Feb 2009 11:33
In golf there cannot be a more magical number than three. On a short hole, scoring a three is par.
Three is a birdie on a par four and it counts as an eagle on a long hole par five.
The number three will be significant in more ways than one this weekend at the Telkom PGA, which began on Thursday at the Country Club Johannesburg in Woodmead.
For starters, and for all intents and purposes, this tournament, which marks the end of summer in South Africa, was going to be a battle between three of the most in-form players on the Sunshine Tour—the likeable Louis Oosthuizen, the resilient Anders Hansen and the consistent Richard Sterne.
Mossel Bay-born defending champion Oosthuizen, having won here in 2007 and last year, would have contended to be the second player ever to win the Telkom three years in succession since the legendary Dale Hayes achieved this feat in 1974, 1975 and 1976. Having won with a whopping 14 strokes last year, the only player to score below 70 in all four days, Oosthuizen is surely denying the field and the fans the fascination of watching a worthy champion. But worthy champions also need a break to remain competitive.
By the end of Wednesday three top-ranked players, including Oosthuizen, had withdrawn from the Telkom PGA.
First it was James Kamte, who seems to be enjoying himself in the East, winning once and finishing in the top 10 in two successive tournaments. Kamte, who won the Asian Tour International two Sundays back, and has earned himself a place in the R17-million Johnnie Walker Classic starting on Thursday at the Vines Resort in Perth, Australia.
The 24-year-old Charl Schwartzel, who tied second in the Vodacom on Sunday, has also withdrawn to take a shot at the sought-after spot in the R80-million WGC-Accenture Matchplay in Arizona next week—an opportunity he feels he cannot pass up.
If the form book is anything to go by, come the end of Saturday, day three, Hansen and Sterne should be somewhere on the top of the leader board going into the final day.
When the odds favoured defending champion Sterne to win the season-opening Jo’burg Open at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club in January, it was Denmark’s Anders Hansen who came back with a mean 64 on day three to steal the tournament from Retief Goosen, who played exceptionally well on days two and three. Hansen held his own against Andrew McLardy, who still had a chance until the last hole.
Last week Hansen came back into the country and tamed a strong local field to win the Vodacom Championship at the Pretoria Country Club.
The 38-year-old Dane has an enviable record of having played two and won two during his time on the Sunshine Tour this year, and in the process extended his lead at the top of the Order of Merit. Hansen will walk from the men’s locker room at the CCJ on to the first tee knowing that he could make it three wins out of three starts.
Oosthuizen’s countryman and Durban’s favourite golfer, Sterne, is making a comeback after a few weeks’ break since he last played at the Jo’burg Open earlier this year.
Sterne is still smarting from missing his best opportunity to make it three in a row when he faded at the Joburg Open after winning the Dunhill Championship and SA Open back to back at the end of last year. Sterne was a firm favourite to win at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, but it was not to be.
It is week three of February and for the past three weeks Johannesburg experienced heavy rains, which can only mean that there will be very little roll to the ball. But this should not be too much of a worry for the top favourites this weekend.
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