When Jaco van Zyl won the Dimension Data Pro-Am last year, it was the first in a three-tournament spree which gave him the most emphatic head-start for the new year imaginable.
And while two more victories seemed to have sent him off on a European Tour campaign promising untold success, his year never lifted off to the stratospheric heights his second-round 64 around The Links at Fancourt during the Dimension Data Pro-Am suggested it would.
Despite that round, he’s wary of The Links (below left). “My strategy is to pitch up on the day and play it,” he said. “I haven’t played it since last year, and I haven’t hit a shot on it in practice for this tournament. It’s a really difficult course.”
He’s rounding nicely into form again after a share of fifth behind winner Thomas Aiken in last week’s Africa Open Championship.
“I’ve been hitting the ball really well lately,” he said. “I thought I had a chance last week, but the putter wasn’t working too well. I’ve been working on a few things and it seems to be coming back now.”
Another nine-under-par round – on any of the courses during any of the rounds – would do him nicely this week.
The tournament consists of three rounds on each of the Fancourt courses – The Links, Outeniqua and Montagu – ahead of a cut to the top 65 players and ties, who will play the final round on Montagu for a prize-fund of R3.75-million.
The pro-am element of the tournament, with prize money of R250,000, consists of 168 amateurs partnering the professionals in a betterball medal format. The amateurs play with the same partners for each of the first three rounds, after which a cut is made to the top 25 teams who will contest the final round.
Van Zyl held off England’s Daniel Brooks last year for his victory at Fancourt. Brooks compiled a four-under-par 68 in the final round, while Van Zyl carded his second successive 70 on Montagu.
There plenty of players who finished fast on that final day last year, and many of them, like Brooks, were not local players. The best round of the day belonged to France’s Alexander Levy, but Van Zyl and Brooks were too far clear of the field to be reeled in by any other pursuers.
Van Zyl believes Montagu is the fairest test of golf of any course in South Africa, and he’s looking forward to taking that examination once again. “It’s in great shape,” he said. “I see they’re using some different tees, making the long holes even longer, but I’m keen for the challenge.”
That’s good news, because an in-form, stimulated Jaco van Zyl makes for a series of potentially mouth-watering battles – with Aiken, with former winner Darren Fichardt, with the in-form Justin Walters, and host of other players, local and foreign.