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Bezuidenhout claims glory at Leopard Creek

29th November 2020

Bezuidenhout claims glory at Leopard Creek

Christiaan Bezuidenhout claimed his second victory in a memorable year for him as he won the Alfred Dunhill Championship by four strokes at Leopard Creek on Sunday.

Bezuidenhout bounced back from a front nine where he dropped three shots in two holes and then made three key birdies on the back nine to close with a 69 and win on 14 under par.

This was his second victory this year after winning the Dimension Data Pro-Am on the Sunshine Tour in February, and it came two weeks after he made his debut in The Masters and finished tied 38th there. It’s also his second European Tour title after his victory in last year’s Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucia Masters.

“I’m really pleased I pulled it off,” said a delighted Bezuidenhout. “Leopard Creek has always been a special place for me, and the golf course this week was immaculate. You don’t get much better than this. I’ve always wanted to win this tournament.”

A group of four players finished tied second on 10 under par including South Africa’s Jayden Schaper, England’s Richard Bland, American Sean Crocker and Poland’s Adrian Meronk.

Bezuidenhout started the final round three shots off the lead of Meronk. Meronk struggled to a final round of 76. The door was briefly open for Schaper as he moved to the top of the leaderboard, but then a back nine of 40 crushed his title hopes as he closed with a 75.

Bezuidenhout also thought he might be out of the running after his double bogey on the seventh and then a bogey on eight.

“I thought after that double bogey on seven it would be tough to come back from there. It was tough out there. We played in a two-club wind that was swirling all over the place. You stood over your ball and it was downwind, and then when you hit it was suddenly into the wind. The pins were also tucked away on the greens. I just tried to play clever golf today. But all credit to my caddie. He stuck in there with me today and we pulled it through together,” he said.

The Sunshine Tour and European Tour South African Swing travels to Sun City this week for the South African Open at the Gary Player Country Club.

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Meronk leads young stars at Leopard Creek

28th November 2020

Meronk leads young stars at Leopard Creek

Poland’s Adrian Meronk will take a one-stroke lead into a final round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship that is poised to showcase some of the finest young talent on both the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour at Leopard Creek on Sunday.

Meronk has already made history this week as the first Polish professional to ever lead a tournament on the European Tour. He now has the chance to add his first European Tour title to that list as he tees off the final round on 14 under par following a third round of 71 on Saturday.

After a slow start that saw him bogey two of his opening four holes, Meronk found his form on the back nine and made three birdies in four holes from the turn to keep himself at the top of the leaderboard.

“It was a solid comeback at the end after a slow start. I didn’t really play badly, I just made those two bogeys out of nowhere. But I played well the rest of the round. I enjoyed the battle of the third round, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of the final round as well,” he said.

Meronk’s nearest challenger is South African Jayden Schaper, who made an eagle and two birdies in his final four holes on Saturday for a 67.

In January Schaper was still an amateur when he challenged the professionals in the South African Open at Randpark Golf Club and went on to finish tied sixth. Almost a year later and he is also hunting his maiden professional title at Leopard Creek.

“If you’re nervous it means you’re near the top, and that’s a good thing. Growing up I’ve always kept myself in the moment and I’ve really enjoyed the pressure. So I’m going to go out and enjoy every moment and have the best time of my life out there,” he said.

Following him is fellow South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout on 11 under par after a 68. Bezuidenhout is already a European Tour champion who this year made his debut in The Masters and finished tied 38th. He finished off his third round with five birdies on the back nine after turning in one over par for the day.

“It was nice to finish with those five birdies. I just couldn’t find my rhythm early in the round and got off to a slow start. But the back nine I was hitting it better and got into a better rhythm and it was nice to see couple more putts go in as well,” he said.

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Meronk in pole position at Leopard Creek

27th November 2020

Meronk in pole position at Leopard Creek

Poland’s Adrian Meronk finished in the near darkness of an African evening as he secured a three-shot lead going into the weekend of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.

Meronk signed for a second round of 66 on Friday that included a bogey at the treacherous par-five 18th, but it did nothing to stop his quest for a European Tour victory as he topped the leaderboard on 13 under par.

“I’m very pleased. I hit a lot of good shots and am very happy with my position,” said Meronk. “The last couple of holes were quite dark, especially the last one. I didn’t want to rush anything because I’ve been in that position before and rushed it. I’m excited. It’s only halfway and there’s still a lot of golf to be played. But I’m excited.”

Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen produced the low round of the day with a 64 that saw him join England’s Richard Bland (67) as Meronk’s nearest challengers on 10 under.

“It’s really nice to play the way I am right now and I just want to keep that going. I got it going out there and holed some good putts and kept that momentum. It’s working quite well right now and hopefully that continues for the next two days,” said Hansen, who is looking for back-to-back victories following his win in last week’s Joburg Open.

Jayden Schaper leads the South African challenge on eight under alongside Frenchman Robin Roussel. The young star signed for a second round of 67 and is feeling confident for the next 36 holes on a golf course he loves.

“I love this place. I love being here. It’s just an awesome atmosphere here. I’m really positive for the weekend. I’m just going to keep being positive and make the same decisions. The trick is not to change anything but just to continue with what’s got me here,” he said.

A double-bogey six on the 14th was the only setback in a second round where Schaper seemed to really settle into his rhythm and strategy for this tournament.

“I’m very happy. I felt pretty good out there. I watched the morning scores and I wanted to chase them. I’m very happy with how I hit the ball today. It was a lot better than in the first round. And I made a lot of clutch putts to save par because I didn’t hit too many greens in the middle of my round. I got a little bit upset with my wobble on the 14th, but I’m really happy with the way I finished it off.”

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Roussel and Meronk share lead at Leopard Creek

26th November 2020

Roussel and Meronk share lead at Leopard Creek

Frenchman Robin Roussel and Poland’s Adrian Meronk both took the most advantage of a receptive Leopard Creek course in Thursday’s first round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship and shared the lead with their rounds of seven-under-par 65.

Roussel enjoyed a run of five consecutive birdies from the turn on his way to the top of the leaderboard, while Meronk had two eagles – chipping in from the bunker for one of them – as they opened up a one-stroke lead over the rest of the field.

Their nearest challenger is Scotland’s Scott Jamieson who birdied four of his last five holes for a 66. Ockie Strydom leads the South African challenge after day one following a rare bogey-free round of four-under-par 68.

A bit of overnight rain and cooler conditions softened up the Leopard Creek course on day one of this Sunshine Tour and European Tour co-sanctioned tournament, which allowed particularly the morning field to take advantage.

“The course is definitely softer than what it was when we last played here in December. The greens were soft this morning, but it’s still Leopard Creek and a very good course so I’m delighted with a 65,” said Roussel.

“I had a bunch of good birdies on the back nine. I was lucky enough to have a local caddie on the bag and he read the greens pretty well. I had quality putts in that stretch and it’s thanks to him. But overall I’m so happy to be here in the middle of this amazing wildlife. There are so many good vibes here and I think that helped me a lot.”

Meronk started his round off the 10th, which he birdied. His two eagles came on the par-five 18th and the par-four sixth hole, where he chipped in.

“I played really solid and had many chances to go even lower, but I’m very happy with how I played. I made some good decisions out there. My first eagle on 18 I hit a drive left of the fairway and I hit a six iron to about 15 feet and holed the putt. The second eagle on the sixth I holed a bunker shot. My short game and putting was pretty solid all day. This is my second time at Leopard Creek and I love it here. I love seeing the animals in their natural habitat.”

Behind them, Jamieson was equally delighted with his start. “A strong finish for a 66 is perfect as far as I’m concerned. I enjoy the tougher conditions this golf course offers. I like a tournament where the winner is 10 under, not 20 under.”

And Strydom singled out his bogey-free round as his best ever on Leopard Creek.

“I think it’s probably one of my best rounds in a very long time. It’s mentally tough out there. To keep the bogeys off the card is always special, but especially on a course as tough as this one. I think it’s the best round I’ve ever played here.”

He’s also not too concerned with being three shots back after the first round.

“There are always some players that go low in the first round, but my dad always taught me that you can’t win the golf tournament on the first day, but you can certainly lose it. I’m just keeping focused on my own game.”

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Pablo happy to be back in “paradise”

25th November 2020

Pablo happy to be back in “paradise”

It is with a sense of immense gratitude that Pablo Larrazabal has arrived at a Leopard Creek course he calls paradise to defend his Alfred Dunhill Championship title.

Last year, the Spaniard battled through a final round of intense heat and severe blisters on his way to victory in this European Tour and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned tournament. This year, he’s well aware of the greater challenge out there, and that to simply be able to play tournament golf in this spectacular setting is a victory in itself.

“We are fortunate as golfers to be able to come to places such as this at the end of this year. We are so lucky. It doesn’t matter how well we play this week, it’s still the best week of the year. It’s a dream to come here and play the game of golf,” he said.

“It was special the way everything happened last year in this place that I call paradise. Everything I love in life is here. The best in nature and the best golf course makes Leopard Creek a dream place for me.”

Larrazabal is hoping to become the third back-to-back winner of this championship after fellow Spaniard Pablo Martin and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel.

But he faces a field equally in awe of this iconic golf course that shares this environment with the untamed wilderness of the Kruger National Park, and equally determined to make the most of it.

Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard is seeking a place in Alfred Dunhill golf history as only the second player after Branden Grace to possibly do the double of winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

“It’s a privilege to be here. I think any golfer that has played here realises how special it is to be back. I’m very happy to be back and hopefully I can join Branden in that elite group,” he said.

The South African challenge is a strong one, including Joburg Open runner-up Wilco Nienaber, recent European Tour winners Garrick Higgo and George Coetzee, 2020 Masters debutant Christiaan Bezuidenhout, and former Alfred Dunhill Championship winner Brandon Stone.

“You know, you drive through the gates here and arrive at what feels like the cradle of golf. You’re just filled with awe and inspiration for the week ahead,” said Stone.

The Leopard Creek course is certainly set to provide exactly the challenge many in the field are looking for.

“The course is playing a lot different to what it did last year,” said Higgo. “It’s a lot softer and the rough feels a bit shorter to me.”

“The golf course is in great condition and I’m looking forward to it,” added Scotland’s most recent European Tour champion, Robert MacIntyre.

“It’s a tough test of golf. That’s one of the reasons I travelled out here to play in this event. This is just a great golf course, and it’s one of those weeks that if you knuckle down and if you play well you’re going to be right in there.”

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Bjerregaard seeks to join Grace in Alfred Dunhill golf history

24th November 2020

Bjerregaard seeks to join Grace in Alfred Dunhill golf history

Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard will seek to become only the second golfer in history to win both the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and its sister tournament the Alfred Dunhill Championship when he tees it up in the latter at Leopard Creek Golf Club this week.

Bjerregaard won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in St Andrews in Scotland in 2018 to claim his second European Tour title. A win at Leopard Creek will see him join South Africa’s Branden Grace as the only players to have ever won both of these titles. Grace achieved this in 2012 and 2014.

“They are two very special events in their own way, and played on very special courses. So of course I’m really excited about going to Leopard Creek, and hopefully I can join Branden in winning both of them,” said Bjerregaard.

The professionals’ appreciation for Leopard Creek as one of the most special tournament venues in world golf is universal, and Bjerregaard is no exception.

“Leopard Creek is so unique. I’ve never played a course quite like it. I’m always amazed when I’m there as to how Gary Player and Johann Rupert could even imagine a golf course like that in those surroundings. I think anyone that has ever had the privilege of playing Leopard Creek has been amazed standing on the 13th green (which overlooks the Kruger National Park). It’s pretty special putting with rhinos, elephants and crocodiles in the background.”

A victory at Leopard Creek would also be a first for Danish golf. Bjerregaard was the second Danish golfer to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, but a Danish golfer has yet to triumph in the Alfred Dunhill Championship. The closest they have come is two runner-up finishes by Anders Hansen and Thorbjørn Olesen.

“Any win at Leopard Creek would be special. We’re so blessed to play such a unique course so it would obviously mean a lot to me,” said Bjerregaard.

Apart from a place in golf history, Bjerregaard has another incentive to come to South Africa.

“I can’t lie I love the food in South Africa. We always get treated so well in South Africa and I’ve met a lot of great people while being there. I’ve been on a few amazing safaris there and I try to go as much as I can. It’s always amazing seeing all these animals.”

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Hansen wins Joburg Open in back-nine battle

22nd November 2020

Hansen wins Joburg Open in back-nine battle

Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen produced a strong back nine of three birdies in five holes from the turn to win a tense final-round battle with South Africa’s Wilco Nienaber and claim his maiden European Tour title in the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club on Sunday.

Hansen closed with a composed 67 to win on 19 under par, with Nienaber taking second place on 17 under after a 70 and following a classic back-nine battle for this title.

Hansen went into the final round one shot behind the 20-year-old Nienaber. The South African made three consecutive birdies from the fourth hole to move ahead of the field and looked to be headed for his breakthrough victory on the European Tour, while Hansen could only respond with one birdie on the front nine.

“Wilco played really solidly and holed some good putts for pars and birdies that kept him going and he didn’t let me in. So I had to do it myself with a strong finish,” said Hansen.

The Dane finally made his move with birdies on holes 10, 12 and 14 to tie Nienaber on 19 under par. And the young South African then faltered coming in with bogeys at 17 and 18.

“It was a fun battle out there with Wilco. I kept the head calm out there and we stuck to the plan in terms of where we wanted to hit our drives and approaches. I kept pushing. It started slowly but suddenly the birdies came on the back nine.

“The putt on 10 set something going, then I had a good save on 11 and a good up-and-down on 12. But I think the par save I made on 13 was also key and kept me going in that stretch.”

So unflappable for most of the final round, Hansen felt his emotions coming to the fore on the 18th and then as he greeted his wife Elisabeth via a Zoom call on a laptop on the side of the green.

“The emotions came out there. I’m just pleased to get it done after a few near misses. I’m pleased to prove to myself I can win out here,” he said.

Nienaber was able to take some positives from his experience.

“Winning is the nicest, but all credit to Joachim. I’m happy with the way I played. I just made two mistakes at the end, but next week is another week. This is my first runner-up on the European Tour, so I’m happy with that,” he said.

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Nienaber on brink of Joburg Open glory

21st November 2020

Nienaber on brink of Joburg Open glory

South African Wilco Nienaber is on the brink of a maiden European Tour title as he heads into Sunday’s final round of the Joburg Open with a one-stroke lead at Randpark Golf Club.

The 20-year-old South African signed for a third round of 67 in Saturday’s wet weather to top the leaderboard on 16 under par. His nearest challenger is Denmark’s Joachim B Hansen following an impressive 64 in the difficult conditions.

South African Brandon Stone also posted a 64 to join a group of players on 11 under and including countrymen Jacques Blaauw and Shaun Norris as well as England’s Richard Bland.

Nienaber overcame a difficult start in which he was one over for his round through the first five holes, and then settled into his rhythm with five birdies thereafter.

“It felt like a struggle, but I holed a few crucial putts that kept the momentum going,” he said. “But I enjoyed it a lot out there. It was an interesting day with umbrellas going up and down, and rain tops going on and coming off. But my caddie Jason (Scheepers) has been really good. It felt like he had more than two hands at times because he was carrying so much.

“The final round is going to be great. It will be the first time I’m in that situation and I’m just going to embrace it and enjoy it.”

Hansen is looking to become only the second Danish winner of the Joburg Open following Anders Hansen in 2009. He surged through the field with a front nine of 29 including an eagle and four birdies, and then added a bogey and two birdies on the second nine.

“It was one of those days where the umbrella went up and down about 15 times, but I kept a cool head out there. I played well with some good iron shots. I’ve played well on this golf course before and I like it here,” he said.

Nienaber’s power game, though, has given him a definite advantage this week, and the rest of the field are well aware of what they need to bring to Sunday’s final round.

“There are holes out here where he’s got an unbelievable advantage,” said Bland. “He played behind us and some of the tee shots he was hitting on the back nine – it’s not really a fair fight. He’s only going to move forward and we’re going to have to try and catch him.”

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Blaauw’s 63 gives him Joburg Open lead 1

20th November 2020

Blaauw’s 63 gives him Joburg Open lead

South Africa’s Jacques Blaauw worked his way through a difficult day of wind and a weather delay on Friday and signed for a sublime 63 that earned him the lead at the halfway stage of the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club.

Blaauw heads the field on 13 under par, one shot clear of countryman Wilco Nienaber who signed for a second round of 67. The second round had to be completed on Saturday morning before the start of the third round because of the weather delay on Friday.

But the completion of the round didn’t affect Blaauw’s lead.

“I’m very happy I was able to finish. I hit it very well all day and then made some putts. I only made one bogey so I’m very happy. It was very windy out there, but I found it didn’t affect my distances that much,” said Blaauw, who is searching for his maiden European Tour title after coming close with a second-place finish in the 2015 Tshwane Open.

“I can’t think ahead because there are two more rounds to go. Golf is the job and I need to get that job done. But I’ve done some good work in the build-up to this tournament and I’m very happy with how it’s turning out.”

Blaauw’s putting in particular stood out, with playing partner Scott Jamieson declaring, “I’ve never seen somebody putt as well as he has for the past two days.”

“I’ve switched to the arm-lock putter and I’m very happy with it,” said Blaauw. “I’m looking forward to the weekend. It’s a bit different without spectators, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Nienaber was just as delighted to finish off his second round on Friday and remain in contention for this title.

“A delay is never nice, and I had it on that part of the course I really didn’t want it. Those last four holes are really tough, but I got through it. I’m happy I finished,” he said after a round which he held together despite not being happy with his tee shots.

“Hitting fairways here is key and I didn’t really do that today, so I had more par putts than birdie putts. I made it difficult for myself. But I’m really excited. I’ve put myself in a good position and I’m excited to see what happens on the weekend.”

Canadian Aaron Cockerill is currently in third place on 10 under following his second-round 68, while joint first-round leader Shaun Norris is still in contention on nine under after a second round of 70.

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Nienaber and Norris lead SA charge in Joburg

19th November 2020

Nienaber and Norris lead SA charge in Joburg

Wilco Nienaber silenced even the local peacocks with his booming drives as he joined Shaun Norris in a South African double act that topped the leaderboard after Thursday’s first round of the Joburg Open at Randpark Golf Club.

The local duo led the field with their rounds of eight-under-par 63, giving them a one-stroke lead over American Johannes Veerman and Canadian Aaron Cockerill. They are followed by a group of five players on six under.

Nienaber’s power game was in full flow on Thursday as he hit driver and then wedge into some of Randpark’s par fives. On the par-five 12th hole he had a seven iron in which he hit to six foot and holed the putt. And on the par-five fourth hole he hit his drive 439 yards and then his second to five feet before missing the eagle putt.

“I just didn’t trust my first instinct on my line so just missed that for eagle,” he said after his round of one eagle, nine birdies and three bogeys.

“Everything worked for me today. I’ve worked a lot on my putting. It’s not yet where I want it to be, but it’s getting there. Overall, my game was just solid. It’s also nice coming back to a course I know well, and also just to see some familiar faces who I played junior and amateur golf with.”

Nienaber also praised his new caddie, Jason Scheepers, who used to caddie for multiple European Tour winner Hennie Otto.

“I only met him on Monday this week and it’s been good so far. I really like him as a person as well so hopefully it’s a good partnership starting. He was really good on my approach clubbing. I just said to him it’s really important for me to hit my shots pin high, and he helped me a lot with that today.”

Both Nienaber and Norris were indeed relishing playing on home fairways again after spending most of their years overseas.

“A round of eight under is nice around any golf course, but to do it here in the first round of the Joburg Open and being back home again is great. I haven’t played much in South Africa since I turned pro,” said Nienaber.

Norris was just as delighted with his round, which included an eagle, six birdies and no bogeys.

“It’s been good to be home. I’ve been playing my home course quite a bit and putting in some low scores there, which has been building some confidence before this. I grew up playing on courses like Randpark. I can remember as a 16-year-old playing a South African Amateur here. But I’ve been hitting the ball nicely over the last few months. I’ve got a good strategy this week to take it the course on and give myself some opportunities,” he said.

Veerman is also back in familiar territory. He led the first round of the South African Open here in January with a 62 – albeit on the neighbouring Bushwillow course, with both courses used for that tournament.

“I started with a bogey which really came out of nowhere, but then I birdied the next hole which is a tough hole and that really settled me. The course is great, but these fairways are so tight that you have to drive the ball really well. There is no room for mistakes.” – Michael Vlismas