The course looks good: Brandon Stone, winner of the South African Open in 2016, hopes for a far better tournament than 12 months ago. Picture: LUKE WALKER/SUNSHINE TOUR/GALLO IMAGES
The course looks good: Brandon Stone, winner of the South African Open in 2016, hopes for a far better tournament than 12 months ago. Picture: LUKE WALKER/SUNSHINE TOUR/GALLO IMAGES

It does not have the eye-dimming sparkle of a year ago, when Rory McIlroy thrilled large galleries from tee to green‚ but the South African Open‚ which starts at Glendower on Thursday‚ has some local star power.

McIlroy‚ who lost out to Graeme Storm in a climactic sudden death play-off that went back and forth up the 18th hole‚ injured his back during the tournament and it was to have a profound effect on his early season activity.

In the Northern Irishman’s absence‚ tournament host Ernie Els has tried to ensure all the top local talent is assembled.

Els‚ Branden Grace‚ Brandon Stone‚ Retief Goosen‚ Charl Schwartzel‚ Trevor Immelman and Dylan Frittelli have all reported for duty but the highest ranked South African‚ Louis Oosthuizen‚ is absent.

Andy Sullivan‚ Raphael Jaquelin‚ Jamie Donaldson‚ Edoardo Molinari and Storm will lead the international challenge.

Most eyes‚ however‚ will be on the top-ranked South Africans, who have been gathered under the banner of "the boys are back".

The defence of his SA Open title never got off the ground in 2017, so it is perhaps understandable that the gifted Stone recalls little of the event.

Glendower is in great shape this year. It’s actually probably the best I’ve seen it, which is saying something because every year has been good
Brandon Stone

"Last year was tough‚" Stone said. "I’m not going to beat around the bush and I’m not going to sugar-coat it."

But he does remember his triumph two years ago like it was yesterday.

"It doesn’t feel like it’s been two years‚" he said. "The memories from the victory‚ obviously‚ are still fresh.

"I can’t actually remember last year’s event too much‚ which is probably a good thing because I didn’t play that great."

Stone has liked what he has seen about the course where in 2016 he had proved to be a  popular winner.

"Glendower is in great shape this year. It’s actually probably the best I’ve seen it, which is saying something because every year has been good.

"The rough is up‚ the greens superb and really‚ really quick. So, it should be a very fun and interesting week."

For two-time champion Goosen‚ the Glendower layout also has bittersweet memories.

"I have mostly good memories but I was runner-up here in the SA Open in 1994.

"Last year, I didn’t have good memories but hopefully I’ve come back with a better game this year‚" said Goosen‚ who is hoping to turn back the clock.

Immelman‚ the 2008 Masters champion‚ is coming into the event cold.

"I haven’t played in a tournament since last year’s Scottish Open‚" Immelman said.

"I’ve practised hard over the past month or so and my game feels pretty good."

Another former Masters champion‚ Canada’s Mike Weir‚ will make a rare appearance on South African fairways. He will be in the same morning group as Els and Immelman.

Donaldson and Molinari are grouped together‚ while Schwartzel and Grace will be joined by Englishman Chris Wood.

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