Long strange trip for Garth to Di Data

Garth Mulroy had a long trip to get to George to play in the Sunshine Tour’s R3.2-million Dimension Data Pro-Am over the three Fancourt courses this weekend.

It is a measure of how much a good finish – maybe even a win – on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit can do for his career that he felt moved to hop on a plane from California after the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in Monterey to make his way halfway across the world.

“I wasn’t looking forward to this long trip back,” said the Durban-born resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, where he has settled with his American wife Christina.

“I’m glad that’s over with now. I left there Sunday evening, and got into South Africa on Tuesday night and flew down to George on Wednesday morning,” he said.

Mulroy found himself in third on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit after his second place behind Charl Schwartzel in the Joburg Open with earnings of R1,315,600.

Schwartzel leads with over R2.14-million, and Louis Oosthuizen is in second, just under R80,000 ahead of Mulroy.

Thomas Aiken is in fourth place, over R400,000 behind Mulroy.

So Mulroy did the maths and it was clear he might have a very real shot of winning the 2011 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit with good performances in the Dimension Data Pro-Am and next week’s R3.25-million Telkom PGA Championship at Country Club Johannesburg.

“I wasn’t fully exempt on the Sunshine Tour, and I had a rethink after the Joburg Open. Now I’m in the situation where I have got to play six tournaments,” he said, referring to the rule that players have to have appeared in six tournaments to be eligible for the Sid Brews Trophy for the Order of Merit.

“I thought if I was going to do my six, I had to come back and play Dimension Data and the PGA,” he said. “That way, if you have a good week, you can actually make money, whereas with winter events, you pretty much have to win in order to make up ground on the guys ahead.”

And he needs to put daylight between himself and his pursuers – the likes of Jaco van Zyl, Branden Grace and James Kingston – as much as he needs to make up ground.

The two men ahead of him seem unlikely to be able to play the six tournaments required: “I don’t know if Louis and Charl are going to play six,” he said. “I haven’t spoken to them, but they are skipping these two and they have only played one and two, it seems it’s going to be pretty difficult for them.”

It’s a golden opportunity for the man who was runner-up in the 2008 Order of Merit behind runaway winner Richard Sterne.

Sterne won a record-breaking R5.99-million, with Mulroy winning R1.44-million.

“A lot of things can come with winning the Order of Merit, so the position I’m in now, I’ve got to play,” he said.

He’s got the Dimension Data Pro-Am to think of now, having carded a three-under-par 69 in his opening round.

“I’ve played this event just once before, up at Sun City,” he said. “I think I finished sixth, but I had a low last day so I wasn’t really in it.”

He is this time – and he’s a front-runner for the Order of Merit.

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