Jaco poised for Africa Open challenge

Finishing second at the 2013 Africa Open Golf Challenge will be fresh in Jaco van Zyl’s mind when he tees up for this year’s €1-million tournament, which starts at East London Golf Club on Thursday.


“I’ve always played nicely here and had good times. In the last two years I’ve had some good results, so hopefully we can improve by one spot from last year,” he said.


The 34-year-old has made the cut in all five of the 2014 European Tour events that he’s played, including a 12th-place finish at the South African Open and a tie for 22nd at last week’s Joburg Open.


“I’m hitting it really nicely – about as well as I can. I battled a little bit with the flat stick last week, so I’ve got a new one in the bag this week and I’m hopeful,” he said.


The talented South African won three times on the Sunshine Tour last year, but has not yet won a European Tour event. At the 2013 Africa Open he led going into the final round, but a Sunday 73 prevented him from lifting the trophy. Building up to the final 18 he shot rounds of 66, 68, 67.


Back to defend his title this week is Darren Fichardt, who enjoyed his practice round on Wednesday.


 “I’m feeling good about defending my title this week,” he said. “Walking around today brought back some good memories of crucial putts that I made and solid shots that I hit. It’s always nice to defend, because it means that you won the year before.”


For Van Zyl there is one higher rung to climb on the Africa Open ladder. He needs to go from runner-up to winner and East London Golf Club, with its short layout and tricky wind, is certainly a place where he can achieve success.


“What’s nice about this golf course is that it gives you a lot of options. It’s not a bomber’s paradise, so you can have a go at it. It’s tough and tight, but if you’re not on your game then you can take iron off the tee and wedge it in close. It will depend on the wind, but I’m hitting it well at the moment, so I’ll be a little more aggressive this week,” he said.


The foreign challenge is headed up by Frenchman Gregory Bourdy and Englishman Robert Rock, both of whom have great experience in South Africa.


“Not many foreigners have won tournaments in South Africa, so I was proud to win the Telkom PGA Championship a few years ago,” said Bourdy. “It was important for me, because I was the first French player to win here. I think I can win again here, and why not the Africa Open? I have good memories of East London, because I finished second here in 2013.”


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