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Branden Grace is in the lead on the first day of play at the Joburg Open, with eight-under-par 63. He is trailed by countryman Thomas Aiken and Ireland’s Colm Moriarty.
THE Joburg Open, worth a respectable €1,3-million (about R11,5-million), teed off early this morning with local boy Branden Grace leading the pack by lunch time.

 

Joburg Open 2010 winner Charl Schwartzel tess off Joburg Open 2010 winner Charl Schwartzel tess off (Photo: Enoch Lehung, City of Johannesburg)The four-day tournament is taking place at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club in Linksfield. It is co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour.
 

Grace’s eight-under-par 63 put him in the lead on the west course. He was trailed by another local golfer, Thomas Aiken. Grace made six birdies to go with his eagle.

Colm Moriarty of Ireland was regarded as the best player off the east course in the morning. Grace leads by two from Floris de Vries of the Netherlands, who bogeyed the 18th on the west course to finish on six-under 65.

But the focus is not only on the professional players; developing golf in Johannesburg is also important. This year, the City is mentoring and nurturing three amateur golfers, who are also contesting the championship.

City manager Mavela Dlamini said the Joburg Open was designed to open doors for all golfers, from development to professionals. The inclusion of amateur players showed that Johannesburg was serious about human development.

“The City’s objective is to inspire these players to follow in the footsteps of talented young golfers and become some of South Africa’s household names in golf,” he added.

Those who have benefitted from the City’s development programme in the past include Sipho Sithole, Emmanuel Masoliedza and Muswalo Nethunzwi. This year, Sithole, Yubin Jung and Jonathan Raphunga are the chosen three.

Sithole started playing when he was 12, and is regarded as one of the most promising players in his age group. He’s won three junior foundation tournaments and has represented Gauteng on three occasions.

Defending champion

The focus of this year's Joburg Open is on developing local talentThe focus of this year's Joburg Open is on developing local talentAnd as play continues at the greens, 2010’s winner, Charl Schwartzel, said last year’s Joburg Open was one of his best tournaments. Although his swing was not “quite 100 percent like it was last year, my mind is, so hopefully I can manage my way around this year”.
 

Dlamini, an avid amateur golfer, has made no secret of his support for Schwartzel as he defends the championship and attempts to bag his second win.

Darren Clarke, who trailed Schwartzel in 2010, said he would like to use the Joburg Open as a catalyst to get back up on the world rankings. “I want to get myself back into the top 50 and as well as in South Africa. It’s been very good to me and that is why I am down here competing.”

The standard of golf had improved in the Joburg Open. “Experience is very good but you still have to perform,” he added.

In 2007, Argentina’s Ariel Canete took the inaugural title when he closed with three birdies in the final four holes on the east course to win by two strokes over Andrew McLardy. In 2008, South Africa’s Richard Sterne claimed victory when he beat Magnus Carlsson and Garth Mulroy in a playoff. In 2009, the trophy was back in foreign hands as Denmark’s Anders Hansen triumphed by one stroke.

Schwartzel’s win last year carried him to a career high of 35th on the world rankings at the time.
Play is ongoing and will close on 16 January with the overall winner pocketing a first prize of about R1,8-million.

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