George, Branden square up in Nelson Mandela Championship

It’s shaping up to be a straight fight between George Coetzee and Branden Grace for the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit ahead of Thursday’s Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa.

The pair evaluated their chances as they sat out the rain which spoiled the pre-tournament pro-am at Royal Durban Golf Club, and, while they were quick to point out that there were other players who could spoil their fight, their chances are really rather good with the R1,822,750 up for grabs for the winner this week.

Grace leads the Order of Merit on R2,448,730, and Coetzee is on R1,567,827 in third place. Second-placed Louis Oosthuizen will be playing the Alfred Dunhill Championship next week, but it will only be his third Sunshine Tour event of the year, so his R1,712,800 – and whatever he adds to his tally at Leopard Creek – will not fulfil his six-tournament obligation.

“I think it’s just between me and Georgie,” said Grace. “It depends on what happens this week, but it’s anyone’s race. I think next week will be the decider. We’re both up for the challenge, and for the last couple of months we’ve been joking around about which tournaments we need to win.”

Coetzee sounded a cautionary note about other players: “There’s a bunch of guys who can come through,” he said. “Trevor Fisher Jnr has had a great season, so I’m sure he’s one to look at. It will be interesting to see the scoreboards and have the people at home doing the calculations and working out what scenarios could play out.”

Fisher, with two victories to his name, is in fourth at R1,416,626, and, in truth, the rest of the top 10 on the Order of Merit have a shot at wrapping the thing up with a pair of good performances in the Nelson Mandela Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Championship.

Jaco van Zyl, Tjaart van der Walt, Thomas Aiken, Jake Roos and Darren Fichardt can all haul in Grace – and stay ahead if Grace has a pair of bad tournaments – and only Retief Goosen will not be in the mix as he has played just two tournaments in South Africa this year and won’t be playing any more.

Of those, Roos is the most recent winner after he took the Lion of Africa Cape Town Open a fortnight ago, while Fichardt won a European Tour title in Saint-Omer in June.

But with Grace and Coetzee in such good form, it is difficult to look beyond them for both the Nelson Mandela Championship and the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit.

“To get you name on the Order of Merit trophy is something that stands out,” said Grace. “You’ve got the likes of Charl Schwartzel and Ernie Els on there, and it’s another good thing to put your name on the record books for.”

The rain stymied both players’ hopes of checking out Royal Durban properly. “I haven’t seen anything of this course before,” said Coetzee.

“I played five holes yesterday, but that’s it,” said Grace. “We were both counting on going out during the pro-am and seeing the course. I hope the yardage books are in good enough shape that at least we can kind of see where to go and what’s around the corner.”

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