sport

Van der Walt to play it cool

Dawie van der Walt admits he faces a journey into the unknown as he looks to defend his Tshwane Open title on home soild this week.

Thomas Aiken's victory in the Africa Open a fortnight ago means 10 of the last 13 European Tour events staged in South Africa have been won by home players, including five of the seven held so far this season.

Van der Walt won his maiden European Tour title in the inaugural Tshwane Open 12 months ago and also triumphed at the Nelson Mandela Championship in December, but does not know how he will respond to the pressure of being defending champion.

"This is the first time I am defending so I don't really know what it's like," Van der Walt told the European Tour podcast. "We will see how I deal with the pressure of defending.

"I am not putting too much pressure on myself, my goal for this week is just to have a chance going into the last day to defend the title, not be too far back.

"If I can defend it, great; if I don't I'm not going to let it affect me too much."

Van der Walt won by two shots from compatriot Darren Fichardt last year on the Ernie Els-designed Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate at Centurion, which at 7,964 yards is the longest course in European Tour history.

It is also the first European Tour course to have four par fives measuring over 600 yards, while the 685-yard par-five fourth hole is the longest in European Tour history.

"Last year the course was long but this year it's ridiculous. It's almost crazy," said local favourite Fichardt, who was born in Pretoria and is attached to Centurion.

"It's going to be demanding on your long-iron play, and it's going to put pressure on your chipping and putting.

"I like this course and I've been pretty consistent this year. I play here a lot and I'm hitting it a bit longer, which helps around here."

World number 53 George Coetzee is the highest ranked player in the field and reached the last-16 in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona last week.

Coetzee beat world number 13 Steve Stricker in the first round and Patrick Reed in the second at Dove Mountain, before losing 3&1 to eventual champion Jason Day.

The Joburg Open winner has been paired with England's Tommy Fleetwood and fellow South African Jaco van Zyl in the first two rounds, with Van Zyl looking to build on his share of fifth place in the Africa Open.

"As South Africans we always feel a bit more pressure playing European Tour events at home, but we've always done well in these events," said Van Zyl, who is still looking for his first European Tour title.

"We're very competitive and we like marking our territory and won't give it up that easily. It would be nice if it's my turn this week."