Louis De Jager Salutes Branden Grace And Leopard Creek

After picking up his fattest cheque yet in the Alfred Dunhill Championship on Sunday, three-time Sunshine Tour winner Louis De Jager took his hat off to Branden Grace, saying that the wire-to-wire champion deserves all the praise he gets.  “Leopard Creek is one of the toughest layouts to come to grips with and this year it served up real mixed bag.  We had ideal scoring conditions in the first two rounds and the greens were still a little receptive after all the rain they had in the region and it was a real birdie party out there.  I was really pleased with my opening round 69 and the 67 I shot on Friday, but Saturday was absolutely brutal.  The greens were very firm and you had to be absolutely accurate off the tee, because course really barred its teeth in the wind,”  said the Centurion professional after claiming a joint 16th place finish on five under 283 in the final event for 2014.  De Jager, a two-time winner this season, had three bogeys and a double bogey against a lone birdie for a frustrating 76.

“The wind was swirling and it kept changing direction, which made club selection tricky.  If you want to score at Leopard Creek, you have to be extremely accurate off the tee to set up your shots into the greens.  The course played very different with the wind, and I didn’t adapt enough.  The course also punished me for missing too many fairways,” he said.  The 27-year-old also dropped three shots in the final round, but reeled in four birdies to offset the damage and closed with a 71 to claim his best result yet since his debut in the Sunshine and European Tour co-sanctioned event in 2009.  “I still struggled off the tee, but it went much better, simply because I hit more fairways.  I built up some good momentum with birdies at 11 and 13 and I was a quite frustrated with the bogey at the par-three 16th.  The pin was far right and I hit it far left and missed a five-footer for par.  It was such a silly bogey, but I’m glad I finished it off with two solid pars.  Hats off to Branden.  He played sublime golf, especially in the first and final rounds and he walked away a deserved champion,” he said.

Meanwhile Lumenrock Sport Management International stable-mate Hennie Otto arrived at Leopard Creek on the back end of 15 weeks on the road and the travelling between South Africa and the European Tour events finally caught up with the reigning Italian Open champion.  Although he tied a credible 22nd on four under 284, the Anahita pro endured a see-saw campaign with rounds of 74, 67, 75 and 68 at the Lowveld venue.  Otto got off to hot start in the final round, notching birdies at the seventh, eighth, 10th, 11th, 13th and 15th and looked to be heading for low number.

However, his challenge died a watery death at the par-five 18th.  The three-time European Tour champion followed a solid drive with a long iron into the island green, but his approach found the drink and he walked off with a seven on his card.  De Jager’s cheque worth R260, 652 will come in handy over the festive season, but more importantly, his share of the purse lifted the Pretoria player to 20th in the Order of Merit and 11 in the Race to the Investec Cup standings.

Otto, who vaulted into the top 10 after his play-off loss at the Lion of Africa Cape Town Open, held on to 10th spot on the money list.  The former South African Open champion will take advantage of the break to recharge his batteries before the South African Open Championship in early January.  The 2011 champion finished in a tie for second at Glendower Golf Club last year, and will be hunting another strong result to improve his current 44th ranking in the Race to the Investec Cup.

Photo: Louis De Jager.
Photo credit: Petri Oeschger/Sunshine Tour/Gallo Images.