Qualifying School: what’s whatQualifying School: what’s what This week marks one of the most important periods in professional golf in this region as yet another cohort of players seeking to earn their Sunshine Tour playing cards get to battle it out in the First Stage of Qualifying School. The events are being staged at Eagle Canyon Country Club and Maccauvlei Golf Club, a change from last season’s venues which were State Mines Country Club and Killarney Golf Club. The First Stage is scheduled to be played over 72 holes and there will be no cut for the first stage, but players are entitled to withdraw at the conclusion of any round provided that notification is given before close of play on the relevant day. The leading 15 players and ties from each venue will qualify for the Final Stage. Some of the previous winners of qualifying school have gone on to make a name for themselves in world golf with players like Christiaan Bezuidenhout now known names in Europe while players like Ruan de Smidt and Hennie du Plessis, among others, have become household names on the Sunshine Tour. Other names who have come out of the testing qualifying school include Matias Calderon who is the reigning Eye of Africa PGA Championship champion, Herman Loubser who has shown potential beyond imagination as well as Zimbabwe’s Benjamin Follett-Smith who is headed to the World Cup with Scott Vincent, who’s had his foundation on the Sunshine Tour. This year at First Stage, 20 countries are represented and they include the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Canada, Belgium and Germany.  
Van Rooyen wins European Tour Graduate if the YearErik van Rooyen has become the 2018 European Tour Graduate of the Year after an outstanding breakthrough campaign which saw him finish 38th in the Race to Dubai, 11 places ahead of his nearest rival Marcus Kinhult. The South African follows Nacho Elvira, Byeong Hun An, Brooks Koepka and compatriots Dylan Frittelli and Justin Walters as a recipient of the distinguished prize, after an excellent season which included a top-five finish in a Rolex Series event and more than one million points earned in the Race to Dubai. The Graduate of the Year trophy is awarded to the top-ranked player to have graduated from the European Challenge Tour the previous year, and van Rooyen has been the front runner for the title for the duration of the season. Carrying on his fine form from the 2017 NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, where he finished in tied third, van Rooyen made four cuts in his opening five tournaments, including solo second on home soil at the Joburg Open where a final round of 66 saw him jump up the leaderboard. Another top ten quickly followed, once again, in front of his home fans when he finished tenth at the Tshwane Open, before claiming a share of seventh at the Trophee Hassan II one month later. In the first two Rolex Series events of the season – the BMW PGA Championship and the Italian Open – van Rooyen rose up the Race to Dubai Rankings with tied 20th and tied 42nd finishes. Soon after the South African found himself competing at the very highest level. After carding rounds of 71-65-66 at Ballyliffin Golf Club, van Rooyen claimed the 54-hole lead at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation ahead of the likes of Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. Despite finishing the week in a share of fourth place, van Rooyen’s reputation was growing. After firing his way to the top of the leaderboard with an opening 67 at The Open Championship, the Johannesburger’s stock continued to rise as he held his own to finish the week in tied 17th in his maiden Major outing. Part of his stellar rise from the Challenge Tour saw him play the WGC-HSBC Champions last month, where a share of 22nd moved him firmly into pole position for the Graduate of the Year award. A share of 26th place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai was enough for van Rooyen to become the sixth winner of the Graduate of the Year award after finishing the season with 1,178,064 points. His attention now turns to the 2018 ISPS Handa Melbourne World Cup of Golf, where he and close friend, and 2017 Graduate of the Year Frittelli, will now represent South Africa in the prestigious event.  
Lombard, de Jager get European Tour cardsLombard, de Jager get European Tour cards Zander Lombard and Spain’s Alejandro Cañizares shared the spoils on top of the leaderboard at the conclusion of this year’s Qualifying School Final Stage of the European Tour as 27 players earned their playing cards for the next season. Lombard fired in a final round three-under-par 68 to total 24-under-par 404 and as it is customary in the case of a tie in the event, the duo was crowned joint winners with no play-off taking place. “I shouldn’t have been here in the first place,” charged Lombard after his impressive display in Spain. “but to come out strong and prove myself to be on the Tour it’s really amazing, I don’t have words for it right now. It’s great.  Having lost my card and now I’ve regained my rights, it’s awesome,” Lombard said. His struggles on the European Tour this season have been there to see but the 23-year old has vowed t do things a little bit differently from now on. “I’ve usually had a lazy first half to the season,” he revealed, “but I’m going to try to do things differently this year and play as much as I can early in the year and try to get the numbers up early. I’m going to play four weeks on the trot and then four weeks back home at the beach with a few cocktails.” Lombard’s compatriot, Louis de Jager, the only other South African who made it through, fired in a blemish-free 65 to progress from Qualifying School for the first time in five attempts, in Tarragona. With Lombard having won his maiden Sunshine Tour title only recently at the Vodacom Origins of Golf at Zebula, and De Jager ending a four-year trophy drought with his victory at the Sibaya Challenge, both players start their European Tour journey on a solid footing and will hope to maintain that winning form from here on.
‘Patient’ Lombard edges closer to European Tour cardSolid Lombard edges closer to European Tour card Zander Lombard on Wednesday played himself into a share of the lead after the fifth round of the European Tour’s Final Qualifying Stage, putting himself in a solid position to finish among the top 25 which will earn their European Tour playing privileges for next season. Lombard shot seven-under-par on day five to share the first spot with Kurt Kitayama of America and Romain Langasque of France at Lumine Golf Club, Spain. The 23-year-old player opened his round with back-to-back birdies on 10th and 11th, his first two holes of the round, and two more on 13th and 18th. But he then spoilt his round with the only bogey at the turn. He then added four more birdies on his scorecard which he made on his 11th, 14th, 16th and last holes to total 21-under-par 336 for the week, and with one round left to play. “It was just very solid,” he said about his fifth round. “I had a sloppy little bogey on the first hole but from there I just stayed really patient and like any low round you don’t really plan it you just stick to your processes. “I felt that I was just short of making the line so many times this year. Every time I seemed to have a good round, I would go on to shoot an average one which would then kill the momentum and I’d miss the cut.” The 2018 Vodacom Origins of Golf Zebula winner had a rough season on the European Tour as he made only six cuts out of 29 starts this season. “It has been a building season for me, I have changed a lot of things in my game and it has been a learning curve for me because I realised that I can’t make it on raw talent alone.” Louis de Jager is in a share of 27th on 14-under-par for the week while Bryce Easton is T41 on 12-under-par for the week. Eye of Africa PGA Championship champion Matias Calderon and reigning Cape Town Open champion Rhys Enoch are among those who missed the cut.
Van Rooyen debuts at Jumeirah 1Van Rooyen debuts at Jumeirah Erik van Rooyen’s solid rookie season on the European Tour has earned him an opportunity some will only dream of - teeing it up at the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estate, Dubai. Positioned 37th and as is one of top 60 players on the Race to Dubai after last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player, Van Rooyen qualifies for season-ending event in the United Arab Emirates. The 28-year-old player who got his European Tour playing card via a fourth-place finish on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah on the Challenge Tour last season, has one runner-up finish at the Joburg Open, four top-ten finishes, four top-20s and six missed cuts in 24 starts in his maiden season as a full member of the European Tour. His superb season so far is just a continuation from where he left off in 2017 when he won the Eye of Africa PGA Championship on the local circuit. He went on to win the Hainan Open on Challenge Tour as he searched for European Tour playing privileges. He also secured five top-10 finishes while missing four cuts in 21 starts on the Challenge Tour. He carried that rich form into the new season of the European Tour and despite a disappointing share of 60th last week at the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player where the results betrayed the effort, Van Rooyen has everything it takes to compete among the elite golfers. While making it to the final event on the Race to Dubai is no easy feat for any seasoned professional, let alone one in his rookie season, Van Rooyen will be pleased with his effort during the season and will hope for a better finish at this US$8 million event. Dean Burmester, Darren Fichardt, Branden Grace, Dylan Frittelli and Brandon Stone are the other South Africans teeing it up in Dubai this week.  
Norris takes aim at AugustaNorris takes aim at Augusta Shaun Norris’ feats on the Japan Golf Tour – where he has won a title in each of the last three seasons – continue to push him up the world ranking and a few good results in the last tournaments of the regular season might see him with a shot at the Masters tournament next year. He started the season at the back of a career-high world ranking of 160 following a stellar 2017 season in which he claimed the second of his Japan Golf Tour titles and made his debut at the 146th The Open Championship. Now, five top 10s, two runner-up finishes and a win have characterised what’s been another solid season for Norris in the east as he chases his maiden Order of Merit on any Tour. But, that is just a by-the-way thing. While he has been racking up results in Asia and on the Sunshine Tour, his world ranking kept rising as a result. A third-place share with Finland’s Tapio Pulkanen in last season’s Joburg Open early in the year earned him another ticket to only his second Major appearance; the 147th Open Championship, on account of ranking higher than the Finn in the world at the time. He is not showing any signs of slowing down this season, either, as a third-place finish at the Mitsui Sumitomo VISA Taiheiyo Masters last week moved him from 76th to 72nd, his best ranking yet. Now, with less than five events left on this year’s schedule of the Japan Golf Tour and a few events co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the European Tour and the Asian Tour still to play, Norris’ upward march seems unstoppable. Unless, of course, he starts playing really badly. As things stand, however, the two-time Sunshine Tour winner looks poised for a spot in the top 50 in the world before the end of the year. And that holds the promise of yet another Major appearance, at the Masters tournament this time. If Norris secures the Order of Merit in Japan and puts together solid results in the co-sanctioned events which start at the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open at Anahita, his way to Augusta National suddenly becomes a lot easier. If he misses the top 50 at the end of the year, however, there are other opportunities to get into it ahead of the Masters and that’s something he will draw motivation from. He has to keep playing and delivering the results as he has been doing, however, for this to happen.
Lombard’s Sunshine Tour form continues in SpainLombard’s Sunshine Tour form continues in Spain Despite his visible struggles on the Europe Tour this season, Zander Lombard – who has shown signs of the potential he has in the two Sunshine Tour events he’s played this season – has played solid golf in the opening two rounds of the European Tour’s Final Qualifying Stage at Lumine Golf Club, Spain. In a real risk of losing both his Sunshine Tour card and his European Tour playing privileges, Lombard entered qualifying school in the final stage and showed some form. He cared a blemish-free seven-under-par 64 on The Hills layout at Lumine in a bullish exhibition of good form. Four birdies in five holes on a bogey-free front nine plus three more birdies on an equally flawless homeward nine gave him a confidence-boosting start. The second round – played on The Lakes course – was just as solid despite a double-bogey on his card. The par-72 Lakes course seemed to offer Lombard very little in the way of a challenge. He made three birdies on the front but these were accompanied by the double on the fourth hole. He was not going to allow any more bogeys onto his card as he went on a three-birdie-trot from the 10th through to the 12th. His solid start follows a solid fourth-place finish at the Vodacom Origins of Golf finals at Pinnacle Point Golf Estate, where he was making only his second Sunshine Tour start. His first start was at Zebula where he won the first Vodacom Origins of Golf tournament in this season’s series. With Lombard in the final stage are fellow South Africans Louis de Jager, Jean-Paul Strydom, Bryce Easton, Oliver Bekker, JC Ritchie, Trevor Fisher Jnr and reigning Eye of Africa PGA Championship champion, Matias Calderon. De Jager is on a good wave of form since his Sibaya Challenge which ended his four-year winless run and his first two rounds of 71 and 66 in the six-round final stage leave him 10-shots behind the leader. Meanwhile, Bekker has had a decent season on the Challenge Tour, boasting two top 10s and top 20s but lying 14-shots off the lead in Tarragona after rounds of 73 and 68, he will want a better performance in the next four days. Like Bekker, Easton has had a decent season on the Challenge Tour but 12-shots off the early lead, he will want an improved four rounds of golf in the few days to come. Ritchie and Strydom are in a share of 112th, while at three-over-par, Trevor Fisher has his work cut out for him in the four days to come, in Spain.
Oosthuizen proud of his effort in Sun CityOosthuizen proud of his effort in Sun City While Louis Oosthuizen’s third-place finish at last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player might be short of what he wanted, even as it was the best finish he has posted there in the last four years, he was still happy with his effort in Sun City. “Yeah, it's not the result I wanted,” he said about 11-under-par 277 total which saw him finish in third position and four shots behind Lee Westwood of England who came out victorious. “I played really well today,” he noted, “and, was up in the leaderboard there for a while. But Westwood, the way he played the back nine -- I was pushing hard at the end to try something. Proud of the way I handled it. I felt I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities and I played really well. Just had to do too much there at the end.” Oosthuizen’s finish was his best finish in the event as he shared eighth in 2017, finished ninth in 2016 -the year where he also shot a 66, his best round in this event – and he shared seventh in 2014. The 36-year-old has plenty of positives to take out from his week in Sun City. “Yeah, definitely,” he said on Sunday. “I played well today. There's not much I could have done more. I made good putts. I missed a few easier putts, but all in all, you know, I attacked when I wanted to attack and I pulled a lot of good shots off. “Big thing today for me was committing to the shot and taking it on, and don't really matter what the outcome was. I did all that. There was maybe one or two I didn't pull off. There's not much more I can ask for.” He also enjoyed a great support from the home crowd although he’s a bit disappointed he could not finish the job in front of all of them. “Yeah, it was good. It would have been nicer if I could lift the trophy for them but again, hats off to Lee the way he played today. 8-under around that golf course without a dropped shot is good golf.” Oosthuizen moves up two spots from 39th to 37th on the Official World Golf Ranking this week.  
Westwood secures third Sun City win in brilliant displayIt took Lee Westwood over four years to chalk up his 43rd tournament victory, and when he won the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gray Player by three strokes on Sunday, the relief was palpable. The popular Englishman fired a superlative bogey-free round of eight-under-par 64 around the demanding Gary Player Country Club – the longest course on this season’s European Tour schedule – to shut out strong finishes by Sergio Garcia of Spain and local favourite Louis Oosthuizen. “I’m a bit emotional to be honest,” said Westwood as he emerged from score recording. “You’re never sure whether you’re going to be able to do it again. Until now, my emotions have felt really under control all day, which is what I’ve been working on.” He played as if he had iced-water in his veins as he turned the screws on overnight leader Garcia, who bogeyed the first, and on Oosthuizen who looked as if he might emerge victorious with three birdies in his first seven holes. Westwood, the 2010 and 2011 champion at Sun City, eagled the second hole to move into a share of the lead, and then, after missing good birdie opportunities around the turn on nine and 10, birdied five of the last eight holes to pull clear. Garcia shot a closing 70, and Oosthuizen, after making bogey on 15 to fall back into Westwood’s clutches, made double-bogey six on 18 to slip four shots behind Westwood in third place. Westwood slammed the door shot on Oosthuizen with his birdie on 17, where a birdie putt found the bottom of the cup in full view of the South African and Garcia who were on the 17th tee was it happened. “That seven-iron into 17 is probably one of the best shots I’ve ever hit,” he said. “I came off it a little bit off the 17th tee and slid it out to the right. But it gave me a good number in with a seven-iron, and the wind managed to stay in the right direction for long enough. Just turned it in off the TV tower to 10 feet and rolled the putt in.” Oosthuizen knew the game was up when he saw that, but tried valiantly – and came close – to make a birdie of his own on 17. “The birdie he made on 17, I knew I had to finish birdie-birdie. I had a 15 -foot putt for birdie, and probably the best putt I had today and right at the end it decided to turn the other way. That hurt, because that was the one I needed. Then I could have a little bit more focus on 18. But that sort of knocked all the energy out of me. Knowing I needed to make a two down the last and I probably tried a bit too much.” Garcia was full of praise for Westwood’s performance. “You have to give credit to Lee. To shoot 64 in the last round is not easy,” he said. “I’m thrilled for him. He had a bad Ryder Cup at Hazeltine and he struggled a little bit, and he’s been playing much better this year. He’s been knocking on the door for a while.” For Westwood, the victory will take him back inside the top 100 in the world, after two periods at world number one which ended in May 2011. “Still got it, I guess. Just nice to do it again under pressure and win against a couple of quality players at the end there,” he said. “To hit the shots I hit down the stretch, it was just nice to prove it to myself again.”  
Fichardt right where he wants to be at Sun CityDarren Fichardt hung on grimly during a tough day to card a third-round one-over-par 71 and position himself for an unlikely charge at the title on the final day of the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player. While he was six shots off the pace set by Sergio Garcia after 54 holes, such are the vagaries of scoring on the Gary Player Country Cub course that a low round for Fichardt and a battle for Garcia are not entirely out of the question. “It’s hard to stay patient out there,” said Fichardt. “I think this golf course can be tricky. You can make a big number very easily. So I’m glad I’m still there. I’ve still got a chance. Shoot a really good number, a low number in the final round and I might have a chance.” He finished last year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in a share of sixth, six shots behind winner Branden Grace, after he fired a closing four-under-par 68. His third round this year was something of a struggle as he turned in two-over-par 38 with three bogeys and a birdie on his card. He pulled it back with three birdies on his way home for his 71 on a day which gave up very little by way of low scores to the field. “I’m very happy with the fight back,” he said, “especially when you feel a little depleted; walking off nine, I felt like, here we go, this could be a big number, you know, because shoulders started dropping a bit and started feeling a bit of disappointment. Made a birdie on 10 and then a really good up-and-down. I think 12 is what kick-started my round. Then I birdied 13, 14. Really needed that. Two pars on 17 and 18. They are really tough holes.” A solid start in the final round could see him start to climb and put some scoreboard pressure on Garcia. “Third round is always a bit of an iffy round,” he said. “It’s just sort of positioning. Positioning yourself to get yourself ready to have go, to have a chance at winning. Yeah, I think I’m where I want to be.”  
Auto Draft 89It was almost ‘anti-moving day’ on Saturday in the third round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player as Sergio Garcia emerged from a day of attrition with a lead of just two strokes after his one-under-par 71 at Gary Player Country Club. The Spaniard has been in front since the first round, and he looked as if he was going to be further in front heading into the final round until untimely bogeys on 13 and 18 saw his momentum halted, while South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen’s birdie on 18 put him in touch with the lead. “I feel like I played pretty well,” said Garcia. “Again, I put the ball in play nicely throughout the day. Just unfortunately pulled it a little bit on 18. Not an easy tee shot into the wind on the left. But other than that, I felt like I did quite well. “Two or three more putts could have rolled in and it would have been a really good round in very tough conditions, and you know, other than that, I felt like I managed my game quite nicely and shooting under par, it’s always a good thing.” He started his round with birdies on two and three, and with home favourite Oosthuizen seeming ill at ease with his game on the day and making pars all the way until he dropped a shot on the seventh, his lead looked secure. The threat to Garcia looked to be coming from further behind, with Belgian Thomas Detry and England’s Ross Fisher making significant moves up the leaderboard. Detry carded a four-under-par 68 to finish the day in a share of third with two-time champion Lee Westwood and Finn Mikko Korhonen. Fisher’s five-under 67 was the best round of the day, and he goes into the final round in sixth, one ahead of Darren Fichardt of South Africa. Garcia, like Westwood, is a two-time champion at Sun City, but he’s not sure that’s significant at all. “I don’t think it’s any advantage,” he said. “It’s something that you have in your pocket I guess, but once you’re out there, it’s tough for everyone, and winning here doesn’t mean that it’s easier for you to do it. You know, every tournament is tough and this one is no different.” Oosthuizen is chasing his first victory at Sun City, and it’s one which is much coveted by every South African. He worked hard to stay in touch after feeling early on that things were not going to be easy for him on the day. “I realised early on that it was a round I needed to keep together and not really blow myself out of the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there nicely. These are the rounds you take a lot of positive out; if you don't play well and you’re still in it to win. “You know, the birdie on the last was a big momentum shift for me going into tomorrow, and two behind is a lot better than four behind. But yeah, it was a tough day. I just need to dial in a bit tomorrow and hopefully hit it a little better.” For Garcia, however, it will be more of the same. “I know the course is going to be playing tough again,” he said. “I’m going to go out and try to shoot under par like I’ve done all three days. I think I’m going to see if I can shoot below 70 and see if that’s good enough.”  

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