Merit race: Who can catch Danie

OoMRace_NEWThis week at Glendower Golf Club, golf’s second-oldest national open championship takes place for the 104th time. The South African Open trophy features some prominent champions from recent years, but not since 2010 has it assumed the role of being the final event of the season in terms of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit

This year, the shift from its November slot to January means it brings to an end the 2014 campaign, and everything will be on the line during a decisive week in which seven golfers could still clinch this prestigious honour.

Sitting pretty at the top of the tree is Danie van Tonder, who, courtesy of two wins and 11 other top-10 finishes, leads the way in the standings on an impressive R3,847,886. His nearest challenger is Tshwane Open-champion Ross Fisher, some R200,000 adrift. However, the Englishman is neither playing this week, nor has he met the minimum threshold requirement of seven events for the year in order to be eligible.

The same is true of sixth-placed Louis Oosthuizen, while fourth-placed Branden Grace is present at Glendower this week, but will fall one short of the required seven appearances.

It therefore means that 2011 SA Open winner Hennie Otto, down in 10th place, is still mathematically in with a shout. He currently sits R2.3 million behind Van Tonder, an amount just shy of the winner’s cheque which stands at R2,377,500. Should Otto lift the iconic old trophy for a second time in three seasons, Van Tonder miss the cut, and the remaining eligible quintet fail to deliver the goods, the Boksburg-born veteran would nick a title that has so narrowly eluded him in recent years.

Trevor Fisher Jnr, Justin Walters and Darren Fichardt – who sit seventh, eighth and ninth respectively – are in a similar boat to Otto, with just R300,000 separating the four of them.

Perhaps more realistically though, it is the duo of George Coetzee and Thomas Aiken whom Van Tonder should be more fearful of. Fifth-placed Coetzee, having amassed R3,339,250, has his destiny in his own hands, and will seal his first Order of Merit triumph should he come up trumps this week.

In fact, should Van Tonder miss the cut, the Joburg Open champion would simply need to finish in sole position of fifth or better to topple the leader.

However, such a scenario would bring Aiken – Van Tonder’s nearest challenger – very much into play, as he only has a deficit of roughly R220,000 to overturn. Thus if Van Tonder failed to make the weekend, and Coetzee finished outside the top five, then 14th or better would do for Aiken.

Another curved ball is that Aiken could finish second and Van Tonder third, and the former would still wrap it up. The same would be true should they finish third and fourth respectively; albeit in the absence of ties.

The permutations are convoluted, and if the above numbers have you in a spin, it would be more than understandable. Yet such complexities are what make this season’s denouement so fascinating, and with the added carrot of a place at the 2015 Nedbank Golf Challenge for the Order of Merit winner, it really is all to play for in Ekurhuleni this week. Just remember to keep your calculator close by!


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