Otto back to defend Dimension Data title

Hennie Otto will have to shake off the effects of a nagging back problem as he prepares to defend his title in the Dimension Data Pro-Am beginning at Fancourt on Thursday.

The 2011 South African Open Championship winner didn’t play the Africa Open, missed the cut in the Joburg Open and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and held on for a solid 16th in the Volvo Champions – and was erratic largely because of persistent pain in his lower back.

But he hasn’t played since Abu Dhabi which finished on January 29, and he will have memories of his closing two rounds on Montagu – the players have a round on each of Montagu, Outeniqua and The Links at Fancourt, before the cut is made and the final round is played on Montagu.

Otto fired a six-under 66 on Montagu for his third round and then closed with a four-under 68 to seal a four-stroke victory over James Kingston.

And his final 68 was topped last year by a pair of 66s and a pair of 67s too low down in the field to trouble him as he took the title.

If the back problem has not responded well to treatment, then it will be an altogether tougher assignment for the 35-year-old Otto.

Kingston, the 2007 SA Open champion, will be back again in an attempt to go one better than he did last year, as well as being on a quest for a first victory on the Sunshine Tour since August 2010 when he won the Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Selborne in KwaZulu-Natal.

But it is the presence of some of the Sunshine Tour’s new young guns which signals the biggest threat to a successful Otto defence.

And while George Coetzee, ranked 66th in the world, is still uncertain if he will get into the prestigious and lucrative World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona next week – an eventuality which will make returning to South Africa unlikely – Branden Grace will be in the field at Fancourt.

Coetzee and Grace form the spearhead of a younger generation which is clamouring to step into the shoes of the likes of major champions Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen.

They will have to get past foreign campaigners like Thomas Aiken, would-be European Tour players like Warren Abery, Alex Haindl, Tjaart van der Walt and Darren Fichardt, as well as a host of Sunshine Tour rookies who want to make an early mark in 2012.

But most of all, they will have to get past Otto.

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