Africa Open Brace For Foreign Invasion

Lanky Englishman Chris Wood will be back at next week’s Africa Open at East London Golf Club for the first time in three years hoping to right what he might feel was the injustice of 2011, when he lost in a three-way playoff with Louis Oosthuizen and Spain’s Manuel Quiros.  The 2013 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters champion fired a four-under-par 68 on the final day to match Oosthuizen and Quiros on 16-under-par 276.  The 18th was the first playoff hole and Wood safely found the fairway with his blind tee-shot, while Oosthuizen hooked his drive left.

The South African was fortunate to have a good lie and then produced a superb approach shot to eight feet of the flag.  Wood’s 25-foot birdie putt looked on course for the cup until it just faded away on the last few rolls, narrowly missing the hole, while Quiros was on the fringe and could not chip in for birdie.  So it was Oosthuizen who holed out for birdie and his third European Tour title.

Wood is joined at the co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour and European Tour event by highly-rated fellow Englishmen Oliver Wilson and David Howell, but just to add even more spice to the Africa Open, there is a strong contingent of Frenchmen, their arch-enemies from across the Channel, coming to East London.  Julien Quesne has had a tough start to the year, including the black mark of a disqualification from the Dubai Desert Classic at the start of February, but he is a two-time European Tour winner and a regular visitor to South Africa.  Gregory Bourdy is the man many are tipping for success at the Africa Open. At 22nd, he is the third highest-placed competitor in the Race to Dubai, while Raphael Jacquelin is a four-time European Tour winner.

Jacquelin dreamed of playing professional football before having to give that up due to a knee injury when he was 13 and he initially switched to tennis before taking up golf with great success.  In terms of current newsmakers, none is bigger than Darren Clarke, the former Open champion who has just been named as Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain, while spectators will also get the chance to see one of the future stars of the tour in 21-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero at East London Golf Club.  Australian Andrew Dodt comes to East London fresh off his victory in the Thailand Classic which lifted him to 13th in the Race to Dubai, while compatriot Brett Rumford is another good bet for Buffalo City.

Rumford grew up in Perth, a city that shares East London’s reputation for being windy.  Jeev Milkha Singh was the trailblazer for Indian golf and has entered the Africa Open, but Shiv Kapur, one of the rising stars who fell in behind him, will be the highest-ranked golfer from the Subcontinent.  Kapur ranks 68th in the Race to Dubai and 240th in the world rankings.

Another Asian talent, South Korea’s Jin Jeong, finished tied second in last year’s Joburg Open and the time may have come for the former world number one amateur to claim his second European Tour title.  But it is English golf that is really taking the European Tour by storm this season.  Apart from Wood, reigning SA Open champion Andy Sullivan, Wilson and Howell, Oliver Fisher lost in a playoff with Thomas Aiken last year and will be looking for revenge, while David Horsey had an excellent finish in the seventh edition with a round of 65 to finish in a tie for third.

Clearly, South African golfers are going to have their work cut out to ensure that the internationals have to wait a little longer for their first Africa Open title.

Photo: Former Commercial Bank Qatar Masters champion Chris Wood
Photo credit: Getty Images.