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Auto Draft 75Jaco Ahlers put pedal to the metal after the turn on Sunday to accelerate away to a comfortable three-stroke victory in the Dimension Data Pro-Am which was played at Fancourt. The George local made an eagle and three birdies in succession after the ninth on his was to a flawless eight-under-par 64 for a 20-under-par total to defeat second-placed Jean-Paul Strydom who cared a fine six-under 66 of his own. Ireland’s Neil O’Briain also shot 66 to finish third a further stroke back. “Those five shots I picked up as I started the back nine were unbelievable,” said Ahlers. “I started with a great second shot with a rescue on 10 which I hit to three feet for the eagle. It was flushed perfectly, and I couldn’t have asked for a better shot. “Then I made the putts on 11, 12 and 13 and from there it was almost cruise-mode. I could get away with hitting fairways, the middle of the green and two-putting all the way home. That made the difference.” He started the day two shots off the overnight lead, and made his move early with three birdies in his opening five holes to pull clear of two other George locals, Tjaart van der Walt and Vaughn Groenewald who were unable to build on their third-round successes. And once Ahlers had pulled clear with his stunning four holes after the turn, he was able to relax and savour the coming victory. “I’m naturally fairly conservative,” he said. “I was very comfortable playing percentage golf coming in, and that suited me perfectly.” Strydom’s finish gave him his best-ever Sunshine Tour result, and the biggest cheque of his career, and he will take comfort from the fact that not many people would have been able to stop Ahlers once he picked up those five strokes. He worked hard to stay in touch with Ahlers after turning in 33, and picked up three more birdies to cement his spot. O’Briain was flawless, and, after picking up four birdies in his first five holes, would have hoped for an even lower score. But he made eight consecutive pars before his next birdie, and then made just one more as he solidified his third place. Behind him, five players shared fourth on 14-under: Dean Burmester, Francesco Laporta of Italy, Keith Horne, Germany’s Alexander Knappe, and Van der Walt. For Ahlers, this was a big win. “I said before the tournament that if I was to only win one more tournament in my life, I’d like it to be this,” he said. And it was big for more than just that reason. The winner of the Dimension Data Pro-Am always gets into the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. The opportunity to play in that will certainly set his heart racing. “This is pretty big. I’m really chuffed,” he said.”  
Ndwandwe looking to end win drought in Cape TownIt has been nine years since Lindani Ndwandwe won a tournament on the Sunshine Tour and while he acknowledges that his game still needs some work here and there, the 43-year-old Durban Country Club professional is itching to get a third win under his belt. Despite missing the cut at this week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am being played on all three courses at Fancourt Hotel and Golf Estate, Ndwandwe says his game is heading in the right direction and it is all thanks to the Gary Player Class of 2017-18 of which he is a member. “It’s one of those things, hey. You get going at one stage and then you get cold again,” he said, explaining his nine-year absence from the winner’s circle. “So, patience is very important. That is one of the things we get in the Gary Player programme. It helps a lot, hey. Not only me, but a few other guys are playing well and will win soon.” The Gary Player Class is the Sunshine Tour’s development programme which benefits from the longstanding support of the South African Golf Development Board (SAGDB), founded in 1999 by Johann Rupert as the official body for golf development in South Africa, as well as the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation (EEFF) in a collective effort to use golf to improve the lives of disadvantaged South Africans. Ndwandwe, a two-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, says while his game has been improving, there’s still a lot of work to be done to get back to the level it was when he won the Western Cape Classic and the Highveld Classic in 2001 and 2009, respectively. Now, having set his sights on next week’s Cape Town Open presented by Sun International, Ndwandwe will fancy his chances even more, because of the prospect of playing in the coastal Cape. “I always look forward to events that are played on the coast, any coast,” he said. “Those courses test you. Are you patient enough? Are you hitting balls good enough to survive? So, the plan will be to think my way around the course and take what comes, but I will remain patient until my time comes.” While he will be disappointed with his showing at Fancourt, Ndwandwe will take positives from the share of 23rd he got at Eye of Africa PGA Championship a fortnight ago.  
Calderon feeling warm in South AfricaEye of Africa PGA Championship winner Matias Calderon is finding South Africa a sort of home away from home as the love and support he is getting since he joined the Sunshine Tour is similar to what he gets in Chile, his home country. “What I like about this tour is that it is a very competitive environment, but it is really healthy as well,” he said.  “Everyone is like pretty good friends and people get happy when you play well, you get happy when the other guys play well. You are not looking for other guys to play bad and I really enjoy that. It is sort of the same way that it works in Chile. I really want other players to shoot seven-under and I just want to shoot eight. So that’s the best part of this that I like the most.” The 27-year-old said the tournament he won last week with rounds of 69, 68, 69 and 65 for a total of 17-under-par at the Eye of Africa Signature Golf Estate is definitely his favourite on the Sunshine Tour. “I was happy to see the ball drop in and it was very exciting,” Calderon said, reflecting on the moment when his long final putt dropped, with a smile which he always wears. Talking about his decision to choose the Sunshine Tour as a stepping stone, Calderon said, “One of my buddies played the MENA Tour in 2016. I actually went to play with him a few events in the second semester of 2016 and he got his Sunshine Tour card. “I went to European Tour Qualifying School and I made it to the second stage and I was going to turn professional at the end of the year and I did not really know where to go. PGA Tour LatinoAmerica, I did not really feel attracted to it. “So, he told me, ‘Dude, I have my Sunshine Tour card, why don’t you go play Q-School there and see what will happen. So, I bought my return ticket coming here in March and going back to Chile in November, so that is how I got here, basically,” he said. However, like most players after their maiden victory, Calderon seemed to battle to maintain the standard he displayed last week, as he finished his third round of the Dimension Data Pro-Am having shot 11-over-par. But given his display in winning, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be back challenging for honours again soon.    
Boom! Vaughn bolts into Dimension Data leadHe’d already made five birdies, and Vaughn Groenewald pulled out his Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt pose during his brilliant eight-under-par 64 on Saturday which saw him into a three-way share of the lead in the Dimension Data Pro-Am being played at Fancourt. He made three more in a faultless round of 64 on Outeniqua, a good follow-up after his poor one-over on Montagu on Friday and a fitting companion to his opening seven under on The Links. The players play a round on each of the three courses, after which a cut is made to the top 60 players and ties. The final round will be played on Montagu. His three-round total of 14-under-par saw him sharing the top of the leaderboard with Tjaart van der Walt and Breyten Meyer, two strokes clear of Jaco Ahlers. “Everything came together again, like the first day,” said Groenewald. “I started hitting it well again. Yesterday, my course management sucked a bit. Today, I just focused on that the whole day. Every shot that I played, I focused on course management. I wanted to hit it in places where it makes it easier to make birdies, even though that meant bailing out a bit. “I just trusted my putter and it worked today. I had 26 putts today. I saw the lines really well. I just hit the ball onto the flat parts of the greens and tried to make the putts – and that’s what happened.” It was a flawless round from the 43-year-old who lives in George, and he took advantage of the fact that he knows the courses at Fancourt so well. “Local knowledge helps a lot,” he said. “Playing with Dongkwan Kim today, he didn’t know what lines to take for the wind. I’ve played the course so many times with different winds. I took totally different lines with drivers and he was just hitting irons out onto the fairway. So it’s a big advantage.” Van der Walt was also flawless for his five-under 67 on Montagu. He’s only a part-time player now at the age of 43. “Since I’ve played less, I’ve actually played a little better,” he said. “I’ve always battled a little fatigue. I played solid today. I drove it well, hit some good irons. Montagu off the back is long for me. I’m used to the club tees! I managed to roll a few putts in, and I managed the conditions well.” Meyer has made nine consecutive cuts recently, and managed the windy conditions brilliantly at The Links for his six-under-par 67. “I woke up this morning with the wind blowing a bit,” he said. “The Links is more exposed, so I knew it was going to be tough. The wind died down a bit after the back nine, so I knew I just had to give myself chances. There are a lot of par-fives. I’ve been putting really well. I made eight birdies in my practice round here. I’ve always played my best rounds on The Links.” Meyer believes Montagu is the toughest course, and Groenewald doesn’t disagree. “Montagu’s a tough course. Yesterday I shot 73 there. I was two-under at one stage and I just let it go. Tomorrow, I’m just going to go fairways and greens and I’ll probably shoot a good score.”  
Walters smiling ahead of Fancourt weekend actionJustin Walters made a New Year’s resolution to try and smile more on the golf course. At eight-under-par at the halfway mark of the Dimension Data Pro-Am being played at Fancourt this week, he’s got plenty to smile about. He closed out his opening round on The Links at Fancourt with an 80-footer for eagle to get to five-under, and then followed that up with a solid three-under on Montagu ahead of his third round on Outeniqua. The players play a round on each of the three courses, after which a cut is made to the top 60 players and ties. The final round will be played on Montagu. “Certainly I’m trying to smile more, but three putts seem to tighten up the lips quite quickly,” he laughed. “But I’m much cooler and calmer. I seem to be in a better place mentally, and even though the same challenges are there and the same worries and the same nerves and all of that, I seem to be handling the bad shots better and enjoying the good shots more.” One of the reasons he’s smiling more is that he has changed the way he’s practicing. “I’ve brought on a performance consultant. His name’s Ryan Fenwick,” said Walters. “He tracks my game and my strengths and weaknesses. He’s been hammering me on my wedges and my putting and my chipping. He’s giving me ways to train and different ways to approach things. At times, it’s been pretty bad still, but I’m starting to show signs of promise. “Every day I’ve got to send him different information from my round in terms of wedges from certain distances, and then he drills me in the evening on it. We’re trying to attack the scoring side of the game. For the last year or so, I’ve hit the ball quite well, and I feel like I’ve walked with leaving too many out there. We’re trying to address than and hopefully we can keep improving on it.” This week has given him the improvement he’s seeking, after he missed the cut in last week’s Eye of Africa PGA Championship. “It’s nice to bounce back this week and start to play my normal game,” he said. And now’s he’s pumped for the final two rounds at Fancourt. “Every time you go into the weekend with a chance to win, you’re doing something right,” he said. “It’s encouraging. I didn’t have such a great week last week.”  
Jerling hails Sunshine Tour youngstersLuke Jerling says it is motivating to see so many youngsters doing well on the Sunshine Tour this season and attributes that to the Tour’s ability, amongst other things, to attract good players from all walks of life. He was speaking after his second round of the Dimension Data Pro-Am where he shot four-under 68 to get to seven-under for the week and within three shots of the leader, Anthony Michael. “I suppose you can attribute this to the Tour doing well with their q-school,” said Jerling who also came on Tour via the gruelling qualifying school earlier last year. “You, know, bringing in a lot of good players like Matias (Calderon) who played so well last week and Combrinck (Smit), who is also a good mate of mine.” Calderon’s win at the Eye of Africa PGA Championship was a ninth victory claimed by players younger than 30 years of age in the 2017-18 season. Other young winners include Hennie du Plessis, MJ Viljoen, Tyrone Ryan and Jaco Prinsloo among others. Jerling was, naturally, pleased with his effort in the opening two rounds at Fancourt. And, despite the fact that he has never played competitive golf here, Jerling’s showing has been as solid as though he’s been playing here for years. “I got off to a fairly slow start,” he admitted, “because I felt there were few birdie opportunities on the front nine which I didn’t take advantage of. But then, through the middle there, I hit the ball really nicely and picked up a few shots and I’m very happy with my performance.” Having carded a 69 on the Outeniqua layout in the opening round and a 68 at Montagu, Jerling said he was itching to get going on the fabled The Links at Fancourt, where he says he’s determined to produce good numbers. “It’s very nice to be in a good position,” he said, “it’s been a long time since I’d been in contention. It’s really nice to put good rounds back-to-back and get some momentum going into The Links, which I assume is the toughest course around here. But I am looking forward to the challenge and really want to put in a good score there.” Three shots behind the leader, Jerling has every opportunity to add to the number of youngsters who have raised their hands this season, but he knows he still has to do the work on the testing layout on Saturday.  
Tjaart making use of home-ground advantageTjaart van der Walt doesn’t play full-time golf anymore, but he finds himself well in contention after the second round of the Dimension Data Pro-Am being played at Fancourt. He carded a second-round four-under-par 69 on The Links, and, after his opening five-under 67 on Outeniqua, he was one shot off the pace set by Anthony Michael ahead of his third round on Montagu. The players play a round on each of the three courses, after which a cut is made to the top 60 players and ties. The final round will be played on Montagu. “I do not play full-time anymore, so anytime I can get two rounds like the last two days under the belt, I am happy,” he said. “It is still a long way to go, two days out there. Hopefully we can continue the good play and just enjoy it.” Even though he is not a regular on the Sunshine Tour anymore, he is certainly a regular at Fancourt where he lives. “Yesterday was a fun day at Outeniqua,” he said. “Today was a little more challenging on The Links, but fortunately I know a couple of nice lines on these courses, especially The Links. It’s a special place. It’s hard not to play well on it when you have got a chance to play competitively. “Like I said, it’s a special place. It’s one of my favourite parts of the world and there is no excuse for not coming here and playing nicely – although you have to step up and do it.” Van der Walt certainly stepped up on The Links in the second round. He made five birdies and a bogey on his way to his 69. “I managed to roll a few putts,” he said “but I am looking forward to Montagu, also one of my favourites.”  
Auto Draft 74Anthony Michael took advantage of his solid play to fire a six-under-par 66 on the Outeniqua layout on Friday and take a one-stroke lead at the halfway mark of the Dimension Data Pro-Am being played at Fancourt. He made an eagle and five birdies, with just a single bogey to reach 10-under-par for the tournament, and he held his slight edge over Ruan de Smidt, who burst through the field with a brilliant nine-under-par 63 on Outeniqua, Jean-Paul Strydom who carded five-under 67 on Montagu, and Tjaart van der Walt who signed for a four-under 69 at The Links. “Outeniqua is the course to get a score on, but you’ve still got to hit the shots and you’ve still got to make the putts,” said Michael. “You’ve got a lot more wedges in your hand, but you’ve got to get your wedges in close.” The Dimension Data Pro-Am is played over all three courses at Fancourt – Outeniqua, Montagu and The Links. After the players have completed a round on each course, there will be a cut to the top 60 players and ties ahead of the final round on Montagu. Michael was at something of a loss to explain exactly how he was leading. “I’ve been working on a lot of things and they are starting to click now,” he said. “But for me, what happens on the range and what I take onto the course are two different things. I have been struggling a bit with the swing for the last few weeks, but on the course, I seem a lot more confident. Sometimes you hold the reins and you get a little scared out there when you’re in front. But my caddie just lets me carry on. Do what you’re doing and the result will happen.” He was catapulted into the lead by his eagle on the second-last hole of his round. “I got a good drive down the middle on 17 and I had 198 to the flag,” he said. “I just hit a solid six-iron. It was actually quite unfortunate because I was only just short. I read the line perfectly and I made it.” For De Smidt, there was also a degree of confusion as to how he manged his 10-birdie blitz on his way to his 63. “Yesterday I played nicely for level par, and today my driver was shocking, but the putter was unbelievable and I hit it close,” he said. “I’m very happy. It’s always good to be in contention with a couple of rounds to go. I’ve got The Links tomorrow, so it will be a little tougher than it was today.” Strydom carded a five-under-par 67 with six birdies and a bogey for his share of second at halfway. Van der Walt finished birdie-par-birdie in a round which had just a single bogey at The Links to get himself into contention. Behind that trio, there was a group of eight players on eight-under for the tournament. For now, for leader Michael, it’s all about keeping going. “I wasn’t feeling too good coming in. But the way I’m playing at the moment, I must just ride the momentum and happens will happen.” He said.  
Strydom loving The Links at FancourtWhile many players in the Dimension Data Pro-Am field this week have said The Links at Fancourt is the toughest of the three golf courses – the others being Outeniqua and Montagu – Ockie Strydom feels the five-under 68 second round score he posted there on Friday is an indication of how much he loves that layout. “I am happy with The Links, I do not know why but every year The Links just saves me,” Strydom said after his round. “I always play well on The Links. Look, everything on the golf course is superb, actually. The greens are tough, a little bit slower than usual and that makes it a bit easier, but otherwise, it’s a magnificent course.” In last season’s edition, Strydom shot a three-under-par 70 first round on that course, an improvement of a single shot from the previous season when he carded a two-under 71 round on day two. Now, two shots behind the leading Anthony Michael who shot a six-under 66 second round on the Outeniqua layout, Strydom refuses to get carried away ahead of the weekend. “Look, it is not the first time that I have been in this situation,” he noted, “so tomorrow I am just going to go out there and enjoy myself, do the same things that I have done in the last few years.” He is properly justified in that approach because, while a win has proven elusive for now, Strydom has had so many near-misses. His experience in this regard will be something that stands him in good stead as he aims for his maiden victory this week. This season alone, Strydom has had four second-place finishes while he has 26 top-10 finishes on the Sunshine Tour. Despite the patience he has exhibited in waiting for his first win on Tour, Strydom knows he needs that win and if it comes this week, all the better, as it will guarantee him a spot at this year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
Auto Draft 73Just two weeks ago, Kyle McClatchie was an amateur. This week, he’s a professional entertaining an amateur in the Dimension Data Pro-Am being played over all three courses at Fancourt. And the amateur he’s paired with is the Sunshine Tour’s Commissioner Selwyn Nathan, just a week after his debut tournament as a professional on the tour at the Eye of Africa PGA Championship, where he finished in a share of 13th. The format of the Dimension Data Pro-Am takes all the players – in the company of their amateur partners – to Outeniqua, Montagu and The Links at Fancourt, after which a cut to the top 60 players and ties is made, and the final round is played on Montagu. That could either relax the players or make things a little tense. “At the beginning, it was a little bit tense,” admitted McClatchie of his opening round of five-under-par 68 on The Links. “You’re just trying not to let your amateur partner down. But as we got into the round, it got a lot more comfortable and we just started enjoying ourselves. We had lots of fun out there today. My partner definitely didn’t let me down, either. There was great camaraderie out there, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week.” McClatchie made three bogeys and eight birdies in his opening round, as he and Nathan carded a seven-under betterball score to be just two off the nine-under pace set by six pairings. McClatchie was also two off the pace in the professional tournament as four players carded opening scores of seven-under. “You know that The Links is always going to be tough, so I’m glad to get it done and glad to get a good round under the belt early,” he said. “If you play a course like this, it’s inevitable that there are going to be mistakes. I can take confidence from the fact that I got over my bogeys quickly and made quick comebacks throughout the round.” McClatchie’s finish in the Eye of Africa PGA Championship took him to 143rd on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit. A good finish this week could take the young professional closer to the top 100 on that list, and that would secure him his playing privileges for the 2018-19 season.  
Martin confident after flawless 66 at OuteniquaDespite shooting a high 41 on the back nine of his final round at last week’s Eye of Africa PGA Championship, America’s Cody Martin feels the flawless 66 he carded in the first round of the Dimension Data Pro-Am is a continuation of the form he showed during the first two rounds in Johannesburg. “I played solidly all of last week at the PGA,” he said, “but, I just had a rough stretch in that final round. But, after the tournament, I was disappointed and I looked back at the week and I knew I was playing solidly. So, I had a lot of confidence coming into this week.” He went on to finish that event in a share of 19th with Jaco Ahlers, Rhys Enoch and Wallie Coetsee on a total of 4-under 284. His form shone on day one at Fancourt, as he produced an untainted 33 in the front nine with birdies on second, the fourth and seventh holes. He produced a similar performance coming home, birdieing 10, 14 and 17 on the Outeniqua layout. “I’m driving it very well,” he said after his 66. “I managed to hit 10 fairways today and the four that I missed, I was probably within one or two metres of the fairway. I kept the ball in front of me. I left it on the right spots on the green, so the game is very solid right now and I just have to keep doing what I am doing.” With this event played over the three courses at Fancourt, Martin feels that the Outeniqua course is not as tough as Montagu and The Links but refused to let any of them intimidate him this week. “I’ve played all three courses before,” he said, “but, I feel Outeniqua is probably the easiest and I think most people will agree, but coming in on Thursday and with the weather, I knew I had to take advantage of the weather and that’s what I did. The Links? It’s unpredictable over there and a bit tricky so a solid round over there will go a long way.” While Martin has enjoyed his Southern African adventure up to this point, he will know that a lot of work must be done in the few events that are left on the calendar. He has missed seven cuts in 15 starts on the Sunshine Tour and lies 85th on the Order of Merit.    
Ritchie’s irons get him share of Fancourt leadJC Ritchie felt it all come together in the opening round of the Dimension Data Pro-Am on Thursday as he carded a fine seven-under-par 66 on The Links at Fancourt. The tournament is played on all three courses at Fancourt – The Links, Montagu and Outeniqua – with the cut after the third round. The final round will be played on Montagu. Ritchie made eight birdies and one bogey to share the lead with Vaughn Groenewald, Toby Tree of England and Garth Mulroy. Tree and Mulroy carded their rounds on the par-72 Outeniqua, while Ritchie and Groenewald were at The Links. It was Ritchie’s iron-play which was particularly pleasing for the winner of last year’s Zimbabwe Open. “My iron-play was really rewarding today. I hit some stunning iron shots,” he said. “I had a recurring number today. I had 151 into about six holes, and I made most of my birdies with a nine-iron. To the last hole, I had 167 which is a perfect club up and I made birdie as well.” It was a relief for Ritchie to get the opening round behind him, as he is quite intimidated by The Links. “It’s always good to shoot a good round around The Links,” he said. “It doesn’t come around often. You have to hit the ball well and make good putts. The greens are tricky, and off the tees… that’s probably the most intimidating part of the course. Just getting it off the tee. It’s so well designed visually. To get it in all the fairways is a tough challenge.” Groenewald is less intimidated by The Links. “I’m chuffed,” he said. “Playing The Links in these conditions, when the wind’s not blowing… if you do hit the ball well, you can shoot good scores. I missed just one fairway and just one green. I missed the eighth when I didn’t commit and pulled it a bit left. I had a difficult chip down the hill, and I was thinking about the water before I even hit it.” It was his putting that gave him the edge after overnight rain had slowed the greens up. “The greens weren’t as quick as usual this morning with the rain we had, so that’s making it easier,” he said. “You can have a go at a couple of putts. My putting is always my strong point – that’s why they call me ‘The Boom’! The greens were nice and slow so I could bomb them a bit.” Over on the Outeniqua layout, Tree made four birdies on the front nine; two on the first two holes and two more on the eighth and ninth holes, before turning to make three more on his way to an unblemished 65. “I’ve started on the Outeniqua in the past tournaments I have played here,” said Tree, “and, it’s the same for me. I suppose it’s the easier course to score on but I find it quite tricky. So, I’m very happy with seven-under. I putted well all day.” Mulroy’s round was as birdie-laden as Ritchie’s was. He started like a house on fire, making five birdies on the front nine without a single bogey. He looked like he wouldn’t relent on the homeward stretch as he birdied the 10th before dropping a shot on the 11th hole. After four straight pars, Mulroy made further gains by making back-to-back birdies on 16 and 17 before making par to sign for 65. “I’ve never really been good in the rain,” admitted Mulroy. “I putted nicely. I tried a new Kramski putter this week and I did a little bit of work with it yesterday and it paid off today. The putter definitely can keep the momentum going and make up for some bad shots, so I am happy with my work today.”  

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