Van Tonder in slender lead at ZebulaDaniel van Tonder will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the Vodacom Origins of Golf after he signed for five-under-par 67 in the second round at Zebula Country Club on Friday. Van Tonder climbed up the leaderboard from the share of fifth he occupied after the opening round to claim top spot with Jaco Prinsloo and Thriston Lawrence one shot off the pace. Teeing off the 10th, Van Tonder made three birdies on 12, 15 and 18 – his third, sixth and ninth holes – to turn in 33. His progress was halted, albeit for a while, when he dropped a shot on the first hole of the course, his 10th. That was quickly followed by two consecutive birdies, but that joy was short-lived as an unwanted bogey on 13 made its way onto his card. And then, suddenly, his round came alive with an eagle on the last hole. “The conditions this morning was not bad,” he said, “and then, the wind started picking up a bit on the second hole. On a few holes, I was almost taking four clubs more and trying to keep the ball. The layout here is very nice and it was a good round.” Van Tonder does not want to put pressure on himself ahead the final day of this first event of the Vodacom Origins of Golf series which is in its 15th season. “I am thinking of just not thinking about anything. I will just go out there and play 18 holes and think I am behind,” he said. With his wife, Abigail, on the bag and at hand to calm him down when things are not going according to plan, Van Tonder said he’s a much different player to the ‘wild in the head’ of past seasons. “I am a different kind of person. I am not the wild in the head that you know sometimes,” he said, “so, it is quite nice, she is doing her own things. She understands me and I understand her. I think it just took a while to jell.” Overnight leader JC Ritchie, Alex Haindl and Neil Schietekat are also in contention but a further two shots behind Van Tonder. Toto Thimba remains the only member of the Gary Player Class in the top 10 up to this point and occupies seventh on seven-under for the week and three shots behind.  
Thimba aims for the top at ZebulaThe changes Toto Thimba made to his game are starting to bear fruit as the member Gary Player Class has been enjoying positive results lately. Thimba came from a share of second at the Sun Carnival City Challenge with Alex Haindl where they both lost to eventual winner JC Ritchie by a single stroke. He carried that form through to the opening round of the Vodacom Origins of Golf at Zebula Country Club where he signed for a 67 on Thursday, three shots behind the leading Colin Nel. “I am very good with that round,” he said of his first round. “I am happy with my game. If I can play on these greens week in and week out, I can win. I gave myself a chance to be out there.” What was most pleasing for Thimba, however, was his start to this event which left him three shots of the early pace set by Nel. “I always start badly and I come back the next day,” he noted, “this is a good sign. I started well, I am five-under. I have to go low again. Last week I lost by one and this time I don’t want to lose,” He knows, though, that it will take more than a solid first round to win a tournament. A strong mental attitude goes a long way when competing with players as good as there are on the Sunshine Tour. “Look, I changed my mindset,” he said. “I changed how I think, how I approach the game of golf and I am a very positive person. A lot of things have changed. I have been working hard on my putting. I didn’t complain every time when I played bad. I have made an adjustment with how I approach my game. I think it is working at the moment. I am very pleased with the situation that I am going through and this is the dream come true. I want to win them all,” The 32-year-old is eyeing his biggest cheque to date and the prospect of becoming the first member of the Gary Player Class to win a Sunshine Tour event since the inception of the programme in November of 2016. 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.  
Nel’s 64 hands him Zebula leadColin Nel says he found something at the range this morning and whatever that was helped him to an impressive eight-under-par 64 opening round of the Vodacom Origins of Golf at Zebula Golf Estate on Thursday. Starting from the 10th this morning, Nel made two consecutive pars and those were followed by an unwanted bogey on the 12th, his third. A birdie on the next hole was followed by a par, an eagle and a birdie to turn in 33. It was on the back nine, however, where he made serious gains. Birdies on his 11th and 12th holes catapulted him up the leaderboard and three more birdies later, and no dropped shot on the homeward nine, Nel’s spot at the summit was cemented. “I am very happy with the round,” Nel said about the early lead of this R800,000 tournament. “I did not really hit it too good yesterday on the Pro-AM. So, this morning I was putting in work at the range and something clicked and it seems it’s all come together. I am happy with the result,” The 34-year-old was pleased with his game at the Peter Matkovich-designed course.  “Well, I hit the tee shots very well and, obviously, I made all the putts I looked at and that is the key thought on any golf course is hitting the tee shot well and making a few putts. Everything just clicked together today and I have been hitting fairways the last few weeks. “I just needed something to just come together. Also playing with the guys I played with today, Ockie (Strydom) and Combrinck Smit, we had a laugh the whole round. I think that also helped me to relax and just play the game. I am not worried about the score, I am just enjoying it. Nel is not planning to change anything on his game plan when he tees off for the 54-hole event. “It is very nice. My favourite saying is ‘you cannot win it on the first day, but you can lose it’. So, we are in with a chance, two more days to go. So, we will just try and concentrate on tomorrow and take it from there. I will just copy and paste what I did today.” Neil Schietekat – the 2018 Sun City Challenge winner – finished one shot off the lead while JC Ritchie who is still fresh from last week’s win at the Sun Carnival City Challenge, along with Alex Haindl is a further two shots back. The on-form member of the Gary Player Class, Toto Thimba also made a positive start to this week’s event as he shared fifth with Doug McGuigan and Daniel van Tonder on five -under 67.  
Jung looks for nothing less than better at Zebula.Member of the Gary Player Class of 2018/19, Yubin Jung says despite an indifferent start to this season, he hopes to make use of his intense practice regime to get better results at the Vodacom Origins of Golf Zebula at Zebula Country Club, this week. “I have been working hard on my driving, to be honest,” Jung said about the aspect of his game that he believes can improve. “I am trying to get more yardage out there, keep up with the big boys and my putting especially. I have been changing putts for a couple of weeks now and I have found the right one and it is going good,” The 26-year old is looking for improved results, and he aims to achieve the first of those in the first of the six-tournament Vodacom Origins of Golf series, at Zebula, after missing cuts in three Sunshine Tour and three Big Easy Challenge tournaments. His only earnings of the season came at the KCB Karen Masters where he shared 29th after rounds of 72, 72, 74 and 68, last month. “It has been a bit of the struggle in the beginning. I am just adjusting my game again. So, I took a couple of years off, obviously, and it has been a bit of the struggle, but I am trying to improve every day by one percent, I guess. “I actually started playing golf again with a different perspective. I think I was a bit tense. I was trying to do things perfectly, but now I am just playing my game and working on my weaknesses. Obviously, I know my strength. It has been a progressive road I think,” he said. He has been absent for five years from Tour and reclaimed his playing privileges at qualifying school earlier in the year. Jung is confident that his game plan will bring the desired results. “I will just stick to the game plan, I guess. The course is a bit dry, but greens are really good. So, I am going to stick to my game plan and just play as well as I can. My game plan is a long story. I am hitting a lot of drivers out there this week. So, I feel confident with the driver. It is going to be a lot of drivers off tees,” he said. 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.  
Top SA courses ready to host Vodacom Origins of GolfBy Michael Vlismas The six-tournament Vodacom Origins of Golf series, the Sunshine Tour’s most successful continuous series of tournaments in its history, will tee off its 15th season this week with an array of South Africa’s leading golf courses on its schedule and a new overall prize for the professionals. This year the popular pro-am series, which offers total prize money worth R4.8 million and which has grown its sponsorship footprint to also include African Bank, Celcom, Apexon and Titleist as partners, will be played on some of the most spectacular golf courses in the country, with two of the six ranked within the top 10 in South Africa. St Francis Links and Arabella Country Club are the highest ranked on the 2018 series which will tee off at Zebula Country Club from 16-18 August and will also travel to Selborne Park Golf Club in KwaZulu-Natal, Parys Golf and Country Estate in the Free State and Pinnacle Point on the Garden Route. The 2018 series will also have its own Order of Merit and a new incentive for the professionals. The Heritage Resorts Order of Merit will reward the leading professional at the end of the series with a seven-night stay at Heritage Le Telfair in Mauritius, including flights. The professionals will need to play at least four of the six Vodacom Origins of Golf tournaments to qualify. This year’s series plays a key role in the build-up to the Sunshine Tour’s international season at the end of the year. The AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open – tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, Sunshine Tour and Asian Tour – will be the first tournament played after the Vodacom Origins of Golf Final in November. Since its debut on the Sunshine Tour in 2004, the Vodacom Origins of Golf series has grown to become the backbone of the winter leg of the Tour. This was the series that launched the professional career of Major winner Louis Oosthuizen, who won his first professional tournament on the Vodacom Origins of Golf in 2004. And when Branden Grace won five times during his breakthrough season in 2012, one of those titles came on the Vodacom Origins of Golf series.  
Auto Draft 85He held on grimly down the stretch, and when JC Ritchie made birdie on the 18th, it was enough for a tense one-stroke victory in the R800,000 Sun Carnival City Challenge at Ebotse Links. He carded a final-round level-par 72 to edge clear of what was looking like a three-way tie between himself, Toto Thimba and Alex Haindl. That final birdie was too much for Thimba, his playing partner, who had mounted a late charge with three birdies in the final six holes. “Today was very stressful,” said a relieved Ritchie after winning his second Sunshine Tour title after his maiden win in last year’s Zimbabwe Open. “It started off a lot calmer than I thought it would be, when I was two-under after eight holes, and then I just managed to keep it together after that.” When he reached the ninth tee, he was five clear of the nearest opposition, and it seemed he would romp home. But a double-bogey six on the ninth saw the first signs of a crack in his serene façade, and Timba, Haindl, Pieter Moolman and Michael Palmer were all poised to take advantage should he have slipped further. When Ritchie made birdie on 12, equilibrium seemed to have been restored, but bogeys on 14 and 16 soon brought all the pressure back. “Toto was playing brilliant golf today, but he just wasn’t making putts,” said Ritchie. “But when he made birdie on 17, that really put the pressure on. When I holed my putt on 18, that was just brilliant for me, because I had a feeling that Toto would miss his birdie putt.” It was a tough putt for Ritchie – possibly much tougher than Thimba’s little nine-footer which slid away downhill and right. “Even Stanley my caddie came into help,” laughed Ritchie. “I told him all I could do was try and feel it. It was downwind, down off the slope from the right – everything was just running away from me. I can’t tell you where I hit it – I just know it went in the middle.” Thimba is still looking for his first Sunshine Tour win, and this was oh so close, suggesting his time is near. His second round in tough conditions catapulted him into contention, and then he rode out a succession of 11 birdies and a bogey before he was able to mount his charge. Had he found some birdies earlier, he could have been the one holding the trophy. For Ritchie, it was experience in losing which he felt helped him deal with the pressure, rather than memories of his victory. “I think I learnt more from this year’s Zimbabwe Open, where I wasn’t able to defend my title,” he said. “I was able to keep things together under pressure, just to control my emotions, to control what I was doing, keeping the ball in play, and trying to finish.”  
Stone uses PGA pain to star in St LouisFrom The European Tour Brandon Stone believes his past struggles at the US PGA Championship played a big part in him firing his lowest major championship round on day one at Bellerive Country Club. The South African had played six majors before this week, making three cuts with a best finish of a tie for 35th at last season’s US Open, but his record in the season’s final major left a lot to be desired. He finished outside the top 140 at both Baltusrol and Quail Hollow but found his groove in St Louis, signing for a 66 that was the best opening round at this event by a South African since Ernie Els carded the same score in 2004. That left him two shots off the lead held by American Gary Woodland and the 25-year-old believes more experience – including a Rolex Series victory at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open - has helped him make a Major breakthrough. “I think Quail Hollow chewed me up and spit me out quite quickly last year,” he said. “But it’s all experience, it’s all being a part of this atmosphere and being with the spectators, how incredible they are, and there’s just so many people out here today. It’s not something we’re typically used to. “Having those two past previous experiences at the PGA Championship really built on that and I really engaged with the fans out there today. It kind of kept me at ease, kept me nice and loose. It seems to have worked. “You can’t coach someone to behave and focus in this atmosphere. It’s 105 degrees out there with 35,000 people walking around you. So you can’t exactly coach someone how to do that, having had the previous experience at Baltusrol and Quail Hollow really helped.” A long putt on the first got Stone off to the perfect start and he also took advantage of the eighth before hitting a stunning approach into the 14th. A bogey on the 15th threatened to derail the 25-year-old but he holed a 30-foot left-to-righter on the 16th and then made a putt from the fringe on the next. “I got the ball in the hole as well as I could possibly do, hit it really well,” he said. “The rhythm was spectacular and the swing. I just putted beautifully, rolled the ball so nicely, managed to see a lot of the lines quite easily out there today. “66 on a Thursday of the US PGA, if you had told me that a month ago, I would have said you’re kind of smoking something.”  
Auto Draft 84On a day which conjured desires for duvets and hot buttered rum, JC Ritchie braved the windswept Ebotse Links and carded a level-par 72 in the second round of the R800,000 Sun Carnival City Challenge. That gave him a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the 54-hole tournament, with Toto Thimba trailing him after the best round on a difficult day of five-under-par 68. “The wind today was very rough,” said Ritchie. “It was blowing between two and three clubs all day. With it being so cold, it didn’t make it any easier. So it was really good links golf today – up on the highveld – but it was good fun.” Ritchie started off with seven consecutive pars, and then dropped a shot on the par-three eighth. But that was to be the only blemish on his card, and he atoned for that bogey with a birdie on the 13th. “If you’d offered me level-par this morning, I would have taken it,” he said. “I did play really well. It was a stripe-show out there. I did leave quite a few shots out there too, but I also made a bunch of brilliant saves. “I’ve been hitting the ball really well for quite a while now – Swaziland, Kenya, all the Africa events – and I’ve really been playing nicely and just waiting for the putts to drop, and that’s what’s pretty much happening this week. “I went through the entire day just trying to hit the middle of the greens, giving myself putts – I know I’ve been putting well – and trying not to be too aggressive. I was just keeping the ball in play, even if I was hitting sand wedges or long irons, it was just to make peace with the fact that it was tough. If you made bogeys, it’s okay because everyone was going to make bogeys today.” Thimba was more aggressive in his approach, making four birdies on his opening nine after teeing off on the 10th. He dropped a shot on the 17th – his eighth – but was flawless coming home as he picked up two more birdies. While he was aggressive, that was tempered with a smart feel for the course and the conditions, as his approach to his final hole showed when he played a knock-down six-iron which didn’t more than 10 feet off the ground as it rolled pin-high and 30 feet from the pin. He nearly made the putt into the bargain, too. “I won’t change anything tomorrow,” he said. “I’m an aggressive player and I don’t change. I’ll just play the way I played today and just hope. I love playing in the wind.” Ritchie does too, so it promises to be quite the clash.  
Ritchie takes advantage of Ebotse chip-insJC Ritchie carded an eight-under-par 64 on Wednesday to take a three-stroke lead after the first round of the R800,000 Sun Carnival City Challenge being played at Ebotse Links. He drew well clear of second-placed Louis de Jager thanks to an all-round display, but it was two chip-ins which took his lead to such a comfortable margin. “I had two chip-ins today,” said Ritchie. “One was a little bit lucky, but the other was well planned. For the rest of the round, everything was pretty on point all day.” He started his round on the 10th, and dropped a shot on his second of the day, but after that, everything seemed to go well. “I was really confident coming in here this week,” he said. “I’ve played the course a few times, as my girlfriend lives here, so I’ve got a bit of home advantage. I absolutely rifled the ball today. I hit brilliant iron shots, putted beautifully. I got unlucky once or twice when I got big bounces on the greens. The greens are really starting to firm up. Despite that, I’m really surprised with the score today but really happy with it.” For a man who hits the ball a long way, and often seems to thrive on throwing it up, Ritchie is surprisingly fond of playing on links courses. “I always tend to play better as soon as I have to hit it a bit softer and drop my ball-flight a little,” he said. “I sometimes hit some brilliant shots in those conditions. With the wind blowing, it’s really suiting my game. I like playing links golf. It makes the course a little easier off the tee. You don’t need to hit drivers everywhere. It’s lots of irons – two-irons, four-irons and just making it run.” De Jager also likes playing on the links, with two of his big amateur titles coming at Humewood in Port Elizabeth. He was bogey-free though his first 11 holes, picking up four shots via an eagle and two birdies. He made bogey on 12 and then two more birdies on his way in to set himself up for another charge at a title after coming close last week. But he will have to deal with Ritchie, who is genuinely relishing the thought of playing links golf in the windier conditions that are forecast for the second and third rounds. “I’m looking forward to the wind that is being forecast,” said Ritchie. “On Sunday, we played here in a bit of wind – it must have been a three-club wind – so I think I’m ready for it. “I’ve played really well lately. I’ve been under par every week, I haven’t missed a cut anytime recently. The game has been close. Driving’s been good one week, putting the next, and irons another week, and it seemed to all come together today.”  
Sun Carnival City Sun Challenge: What’s what.The third event in the five-tournament Sun International series, the Sun Carnival City Challenge, makes its way to Ebotse Golf Links this week where Jbe’ Kruger will be looking to defend his title. His knowledge of the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate, the venue where the previous tournament was hosted, came to the fore and he claimed a single-stroke win over Neil Schietekat and JJ Senekal after a beautiful approach shot on the final hole landed a mere six feet from the flag. The field: The field is made up of 108 professionals who will be battling it out in this R800,000 tournament. The defending champion: Before this tournament, Jbe’ Kruger had never won a Sunshine Tour event in South Africa. Some of his victories came from the Zambia Open and the Zimbabwe Open but locally, he was yet to break his duck. He did so in style. At his home course. He went into the final round leading Titch Moore by one shot on nine-under following a 69 he produced in round two to support the 66 he signed for on day one. While it was not smooth sailing for Kruger, he was able to produce a 70 in the final round and that proved adequate to claim the much sought-after victory. The course: Ebotse Links is a Peter Matkovich Signature design golf course and is the only inland links golf course in the country. The 6,372-metre par-72 layout has seven of its holes on water and has been built to US PGA specifications to accommodate championship golf and offer a stern test to any player, whether amateur or seasoned professional. The Rynfield Dam forms part of a unique driving range where balls land in the lake and special floating balls are used for this purpose. It has a number of floating greens for targets and floating golf balls for reuse. Ranked as the 38th best golf course in the country by Golf Digest SA, Ebotse has hosted numerous tournaments, including three Sunshine Tour events, one Nomads National (the biggest amateur event in the world), Senior Interprovincial and League Finals. The form player: Since his breakthrough victory at the KCB Karen Masters, Michael Palmer seems rejuvenated and in good form. At 34-under-par 470 in his last six rounds, and with no score over par in all that time, Palmer seems to have found something in Kenya. Before that victory at Karen Country Club, he had missed every cut since the beginning of the year. While he couldn’t make it back-to-back wins last week, he did enough to push eventual winner Andre De Decker to the limit in eSwatini. Despite giving it his best, Palmer fell on the fifth playoff hole in eZulwini to hand De Decker his maiden victory. From Palmer’s display over the last two weeks, it is almost clear that he only needed that victory to resuscitate what looked like a dull season. The sentimental pick: Purely based on the fact that he won last week and that he had come close to a win in the season-opening Zanaco Masters, Andre De Decker deserves a mention here. He showed his intention early in the season when he pushed Jaco Ahlers (who had just won the Dimension Data Pro-Am) and JJ Senekal to the playoff in Lusaka. There, he fell at the hands of Senekal who emerged victorious after some scintillating golf. A solid 31st position at Old Mutual Zimbabwe Open was followed by a missed cut in Kitwe before finishing 28th and sixth at Investec Royal Swazi Open and Lombard Insurance Classic, respectively. Those particular finishes must have been massive for De Decker because the next time he would return to eSwatini, it would be for a victory. With that, he became the second first-time winner this season after, ironically, Michael Palmer. The bolter: Member of the Gary Player Class, Keenan Davidse earns his spot here due to his consistent game up to this point. While many will feel he let a good opportunity for a win go by in eSwatini when he was co-leading by a single shot going into the final round of the Royal Swazi Spa Challenge only to fall behind and finish fifth, for some, a feeling that a win for Davidse is much closer, is undeniable. Boasting two top-10 finishes already and with a knack for producing an occasional spectacular, Davidse, many will feel, has everything it takes to win. “It was because I stayed patient. I’ve been out here on tour for a while, so I know what I need to do,” he said last week of his second-round display at Royal Swazi Golf and Spa. While he eventually finished two shots behind the lead in eSwatini, Davidse is experienced enough not to lose his head. Along with Toto Thimba Jr, Franklin Manchest and Heinrich Bruiners, Davidse has been among the best performers from the Gary Player Class and will see this week’s Sun Carnival City Challenge as his opportunity to finally cross the line.  
De Decker downs Palmer in marathon Swazi play-offHe had a chance to win it in regulation on Friday, but in the end, it took Andre de Decker five extra holes before he was able to lift his first Sunshine Tour trophy as he won the Royal Swazi Spa Challenge. He downed Michael Palmer on the fifth play-off hole after they both finished on 16-under-par 200 after 54 holes of regulation play in the R800,000 tournament – but a bogey on 17 nearly cost him the title. “I hit a great drive down the left of the 17th fairway,” said De Decker, “and it just caught a tree, and came back about 60 metres, so I had about 120-metre difference for my normal approach. I had to lay up.” In the end, he three-putted on 17 and let Palmer, a winner two weeks ago in Kenya who had eagled 17 on his way to a brilliant 64, in to the play-off. They went to the par-three 18th three more times, and were unable to find a winner. On to the 10th, and Palmer’s approach to the short par-four through a deep valley hit the flag and dropped three feet from the pin. But he was unable to convert the chance. Instead, it gave De Decker a chance to hit his tee shot on 18 (again!) to 10 feet, and, when Palmer was in trouble in the greenside bunker from which he was unable to extricate himself, De Decker coolly rammed home the winning putt. “It’s very tough going through five extra holes,” said De Decker. “I felt it got a little easier as it went on, and it helped that I was playing with Michael, who is a good friend. I was thinking of the previous play-off I was in in Zambia when I lost to JJ Senekal and how I didn’t want a repeat of that.” The victory meant the world to him. “This is huge,” he said. “I’ve just got back from the United States. I came back with the intention of getting at least one trophy. It means so much to finally get that win and I’m excited for what the future holds because this year has been trending in the right direction. To see hard work paying off is awesome.” Just one stroke behind the play-off par were Michael Hollick and Louis de Jager, with Rourke van der Spuy, Keenan Davidse and Keith Horne a further stroke back in a share of fifth. For De Decker, it was his A-game which got him the win after what he felt were B-game performances in the first two rounds. “It was close to it in the first 12 holes,” he said. “I started really hot, and form there, it was just trying to birdie every hole.” That A-game was more than enough.  

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