By: Michael Sherman
JOHANNESBURG – Led by Louis Oosthuizen, there will be six South Africans battling it out in the first golf major of the year when the PGA Championship tees off at the TPC at Harding Park on Thursday.
The 2010 Open champion Oosthuizen will be joined by fellow major-winner Charl Schwartzel, young guns Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Erik van Rooyen, PGA tour winner Dylan Frittelli and the experienced Shaun Norris.
Looking at the chances of the SA players, once again it will be Oosthuizen who will be expected to be the top contender at 24th in the world golf rankings. The 37-year-old returned to form last week at the World Golf Championships (WGC) – FedEx St Jude Invitational – with a sixth place finish. Though he finished four behind American winner and new world number one Justin Thomas, Oosthuizen was one shot out of a tie for second.
Amid the break in competition due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Oosthuizen had been battling to find form. The WGC was his ninth event on the PGA tour this year, and his next best finish was a tie for 46th.
Van Rooyen, at 44th in the world rankings, has been steadily gaining experience in the majors after making his debut in one of the ‘big four’ events on the golf calendar at the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie. The 30-year-old played three of the four majors last year, with his best result coming at the PGA Championship with an eighth-place finish. The European tour winner also has a pair of top-25 finishes in his last two events on the PGA Tour.
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Bezuidenhout at 26, is the youngest SA player in the field – but that does not mean he is not capable of springing a surprise on an American audience. He also happens to be the same age Schwartzel was when he stunned the field to win the 2011 Masters title. Like Van Rooyen, Bezuidenhout also has a couple of top-25 finishes in his last two events on US soil.
Bezuidenhout, ranked 47th in the world, might also feel fate owes him one. The rising SA star carded an opening seven-under 65 to hold second place in the Players Championship on the PGA Tour in March, before the event was cancelled due to Covid-19.
Frittelli, who tested positive for Covid-19 and has since recovered, boasts a 22nd and 18th place finish in the last few weeks on the PGA Tour. The 30-year-old will be playing in his ninth major and with a best finish of 31st, the steely competitor will be hoping to improve on that record.
Schwartzel, in contrast, had little form to speak of until the 3M Open in Blaine two weeks ago. There he finished in a tie for third which signalled a rise of 43 spots in the world rankings to 181st. Having battled most of 2019 with a wrist injury, the former world number six may just be rounding into form at the right time.
Playing in just his fifth major at the age of 38, Norris may just feel it’s now or never in his hunt for golfing glory. Though Norris has remained relatively unknown to fans outside South Africa, he indeed is ‘big in Japan’. He has won each year since 2016 on the Japan Golf Tour, and may just be ready to translate that Asian success into widespread acclaim in the “Land of Opportunity’.
It would have been seven SA players in the field, but Branden Grace last week tested positive for Covid-19 which forced him to withdraw from the PGA Championship. His symptoms have been mild, and he is expected to make a full recovery.
African News Agency (ANA)