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South African Airways Open 2004

Trevor Immelman set for title defence

Keep the ball straight and stay out of the rough, especially on the opening five holes. That, says defending champion Trevor Immelman, is the key to victory at this year's SAA Open golf championship that begins at the Durban Country Club on Thursday.

"If the wind blows here then I believe it makes the first five holes here probably one of the toughest starts in golf," said Immelman on Wednesday.

"If you can be at least on level-par after the first five, then you have some real chances for a good score.

"But the key here is to keep the ball in play.

"I think it's going to be an exciting few days with some fantastic golf, and I believe you will have a worthy champion come Sunday."

Immelman certainly plans to be that worthy champion, and should he do so, he would be only the fourth player in the 102-year history of the tournament to have won the event three times in a row. The others were George Fotheringham (1910-1912), Bobby Locke (1937-1939) and Gary Player (1966-1969).

"It would be fantastic to join that elite group, but to be honest, I haven't given too much thought to it. I don't feel like I have anything to prove when I come out here, but I will try and play as well as I can," said Immelman.

The defending champion will not have things his own way this week. Both his previous wins came at his home course of Erinvale in Somerset West, but this time he will need to score an away victory.

His main opposition is likely to come from Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, dunhill championship champion Charl Schwartzel, and two other previous Open champions, David Frost and Tim Clark.

The last time the Open was played at this course, in 2002, it was Clark who came out on top with a 19-under-par 269, a score he does not believe will be achieved this time around. "Someone would have to play really well to get there, and I'm almost thinking 12 or 13-under would be a good score."

Darren Clarke admitted on Wednesday that he has not had a good record at this course in both of his previous appearances. "I just find everything difficult here — the tees, the greens, the fairways.

"I don't know why, because it is a fantastic golf course, but I just haven't performed here. Having said that, I wasn't hitting the ball then as well as I am now, so we'll see how it goes."

He agreed with Immelman's assessment that keeping the ball on the fairways was the key to victory. "They have grown the rough in and so it will be a lot tighter than it was in the past. I hope the wind doesn't get up too much here or it will be very tough to find the fairways and the rough is so penal that you are going to make a bogey from there."

Clarke was due to play at the Nedbank Challenge in December but had to pull out when his wife, Heather, was diagnosed with cancer. However, the golfer from Northern Ireland was pleased to report that everything was going well.

"Heather just underwent her third bout of chemotherapy last week, and she is battling well and doing as well as expected. She is a very strong person and all the results we've been getting so far have been good, so hopefully she is on the road to a full recovery."

 

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