South African Jaco van Zyl will hope to convert his resurgent form into a win at the East London Golf Club.
Van Zyl arrived in Buffalo City as the favourite, alongside Englishman Sullivan, and will be looking to extend the country’s stranglehold in the European and Sunshine Tour event when the pair line up in a world-class field on Thursday.
“I’m definitely gunning for a podium finish this year,” he said.
Van Zyl has the form following a third-place finish in the Dimension Data Pro-Am two weeks ago, and a tie for second in the co-sanctioned Joburg Open on Sunday.
In his six starts at East London Golf Club, the 13-time Sunshine Tour winner has broken par 21 times in 24 rounds, including bogey-free rounds of 67 and 66 in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and his record in Buffalo City certainly supports his confidence.
He tied for fifth in 2014, finished fourth in 2011 and 2012 and tied for second in 2013, but had his first taste of victory at East London Golf Club when he defeated Dean Lambert 8 & 6 for the South African Amateur Championship title in 2000.
The 35-year-old Dainfern golfer certainly knows what it takes to make the winner’s circle on Sunday.
“The layout is typical of the old-style courses and I fell in love with this course when I first won here in 2000,” he said.
Van Zyl was ranked 62nd in the world when his career was interrupted with double knee surgery in April last year. He returned to the competitive stage in January and shook off some rust in the South African Open and Dubai Desert Classic.
Previous winners Shaun Norris, Retief Goosen, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Darren Fichardt and Thomas Aiken have fiercely protected South African honour at the Africa Open, but there is a two-time European Tour champion in town who hopes to change the course of history.
Barely a month after he defeated 2010 Africa Open champion Schwartzel in a play-off for the South African Open title at Glendower, Sullivan added the Joburg Open title to his tally.
Now Sullivan is targeting a South African triple in his third trip to East London Golf Club, and the 27-year-old Nuneaton professional, wearing his perpetual smile at the putting green ahead of the pro-am, said one of the reasons he does so well in this country is the crowd support.
“The Eastern Cape fans really got behind the golfers, no matter the nationality. They love being out there with us and getting treated to some great golf. It really feeds the confidence when you have crowd support and I am counting on the fans to give me a fighting chance this week,” he said.
Sullivan, who rose to seventh in the Race to Dubai and rocketed to 58th in the official world golf rankings after his win at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, said his game is as good as it has ever been since he turned pro in 2011.
“I just want to get myself into a strong position for Sunday. I enjoy the pressure of leading a tournament or chasing a leader on the final day. I can’t get enough of that adrenaline rush. I wish I could bottle it.
“To hold another trophy in South Africa would be fantastic, to become the first foreigner to lift the Africa Open title would be incredibly special.”