Jaco van Zyl will be angling for a European Tour breakthrough in the 2015 Africa Open next week after making a major statement in George on Sunday. After 10 months on the bench, Van Zyl intended to take more rust off his second Sunshine Tour start this season in the Dimension Data Pro-Am, however, the Dainfern professional finished just three off the pace in a tie for third after firing rounds of 70, 71, 69 and 71 at Fancourt. Van Zyl finished fourth in 2011 and 2012 Africa Opens, shared a runner-up finish in 2013 and tied for fifth last year.
Buoyed by his performance in George, the 13-time Sunshine Tour champion is fired up to exact his revenge on East London Golf Club. He said: ‘I’ve been in contention for the last four years, but the course has never showed me any mercy. Buffalo City is always my favourite stop of the season, because my dad, some other family members and friends all travel to the Eastern Cape for the tournament. We have a good old fashioned boys’ week and I would love to win lift the trophy with all those guys surrounding the 18th green. I think East London Golf Club owes me one and this year I hope to collect.’ It was shortly after the Investec Cup last year that Van Zyl had to quit the game to have ligament damage repaired to both knees.
He went under the knife in April and aimed to re-join the circuit before summer swing started up again. However, subsequent injuries led to two more operations – the first shortly after the double surgery, and the second after his left knee popped during the third round of the HSBC Champions in early November. Van Zyl said: ‘It was only my second event back and I was out again for two months. I started again at the SA Open in January and my expectations were really low. I was quite nervous; the rough was absolutely brutal and I wasn’t sure how my game would hold up under the pressure. But I survived the rough and the cut to tie for 55th. It was my worst finish since 2007, but it sure felt good to be competing again.’
Van Zyl missed the cut at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and didn’t expect much at Fancourt, but a solid start spurred him on and he shared third in some esteemed company, including Lumenrock Sport International Management stable-mate Hennie Otto, current Chase to the Investec Cup leader Danie Van Tonder and Darren Fichardt, to whom he lost out in the 2013 edition of the Africa Open. Boosted by the performance, Van Zyl intends to build on his form in this week’s Joburg Open before he renews his title bid at East London Golf Club from 5-11 March.
He said: ‘I shot rounds of 66, 68 and 67 in 2013 and led going into the final round, but I let myself down with a 73 on the Sunday. Now I want to step it up from runner-up to winner. What I love about this course, is that it gives you a lot of options. It’s not a bomber’s course, so you can go for it. You need accuracy and you need a hot putter. If you are not on your game, you better pull out the irons and wedges. My game is coming on nicely and the short game is getting sharper all the time. In the last four years I’ve had some good results, so hopefully I can improve by one spot from 2013.’ Given his past results, East London Golf Club with its short layout and tricky wind, is certainly a place where Van Zyl can achieve success. He heads up the local challenge alongside former champions Fichardt and Shaun Norris, Van Tonder and European Tour winners George Coetzee, Richard Sterne and James Kingston.
Reigning SA Open champion Andy Sullivan, two-time Alfred Dunhill Championship winner Pablo Martin Benavides and the French trio of Grégory Bourdy, Julien Quesne and Raphaël Jacquelin will aim to break the South African stronghold on the event alongside recently named 2016 European Team Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke from Northern Ireland, who makes a welcome return to Buffalo City.
Photo: Jaco Van Zyl
Photo credit: Luke Walker/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images.