South African Open leader Schwartzel chases elusive home open title

Charl Schwartzel has won 11 times on the European Tour, but never his national open. Not that he hasn’t played well; he boasts a pair of runner-up finishes and four other top-5s at the South African Open.

Through 36 holes of this season’s edition at Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg, Schwartzel holds a one-shot lead after Friday’s 8-under 63 on the Bushwillow Course rocketed him to 12 under.

“I would love to win this one and I’ve given myself a good chance,” Schwartzel said.

Schwartzel entered this week ranked 80th in the Official World Golf Ranking, his worst ranking since 2008. Since his T-15 showing at the last SA Open, held this past January, the South African has just four top-10s and one other top-20 in 22 worldwide starts.

But he’s looked comfortable at home through two rounds, especially on the back nine Friday. Heading into the par-4 11th hole at 6 under, Schwartzel birdied four of his next six holes before holing out for eagle at the par-5 17th hole.

Full-field scores from the South African Open

“It’s probably the most consistent I’ve driven the ball and I felt it,” Schwartzel said. “In practice I’ve been doing the same. It’s just nice to do it in a tournament now.”

Zambia’s Madalitso Muthiya is alone in second, one shot clear of South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Zander Lombard, and American Kurt Kitayama, who shot 69 Friday on Bushwillow and is a week removed from his first European Tour victory, at the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open. Oosthuizen, who like Schwartzel has never won this event, followed his opening 63 with a 70 on the tougher Firethorn Course.

Oosthuizen also is the only player within three shots of the lead who is already qualified for next summer’s Open Championship. The top three finishers this week, not already exempt, will receive invites to Royal Portrush.

Ernie Els, a three-time SA Open winner, is 5 under after an even-par 71 on Firethorn. He is tied with his nephew, Auburn junior and reigning British Amateur champion Jovan Rebula.

Oosthuizen leads at South African Open; Els in contention

JOHANNESBURG – Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, led the South African Open by a shot after a 9-under 62 in the first round on Thursday.

Oosthuizen, playing his home Open for the first time in eight years, made a brilliant start at Randburg Golf Club in Johannesburg with nine birdies, including six in an eight-hole surge on the back nine, and no bogeys.

”It was one of those rounds where you don’t really look at any scoreboard or your card, you just play,” he said. ”I drove it really well and gave myself good opportunities to hit it close.”

Full-field scores from the South African Open

Oosthuizen was one stroke ahead of Kurt Kitayama of the U.S., who won the Mauritius Open last weekend, and surprise challenger Madalitso Muthiya of Zambia.

Zander Lombard was fourth on 64 while Ernie Els, a five-time winner of the event, opened with a 5-under 66.

Els, 49, had a run of five birdies in six holes from the seventh. His last victory at the South African Open was in 2010, and his previous win anywhere on the European Tour came in 2013.

The tournament is being played on the Firethorn Course and the Bushwillow Course. Players will have a round on each before the final 36 holes are held at Firethorn.

Purse increases, new formats highlight 2019 LPGA schedule

More, more, more.

That’s the theme behind the 2019 LPGA schedule released Thursday, but tour commissioner Mike Whan sees something else in the growth.

“There’s less unpredictability,” Whan said. “I think that’s the cool thing. The schedule isn’t a big surprise. Most of our events are back again. We’re just growing our purses.”

The 33 official events on next year’s schedule are one more than this year and will feature a tour-record $70.55 million in total prize money, surpassing the 2018 record haul by $5.2 million.

It adds up to more stability.

Notably, there will be more diverse formats, with three new formats on the schedule.

“We’ve grown to the point where we are able to do more of these fun formats,” Whan said.

The year will begin with one such event – the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions (Jan. 17-20), featuring LPGA winners from the last two years playing alongside celebrities and entertainers in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The tour’s second event will feature yet another new format, with the LPGA and the men’s European Tour co-sanctioning the Australian Golf event in Barwon Heads, Australia, on Feb. 7-10. It’s the only tournament where men and women compete on the same course (13th Beach Golf Links) for the same prize money ($1.1 million), with the men and women playing their own competitions with alternating tee times.

The Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational is the other new format, a two-woman team event to be played July 17-20 in Midland, Mich.

The CME Group Tour Championship’s giant purse increase got a lot of attention last month, with CME Group announcing it was doubling prize money next year, to $5 million, with a women’s-record $1.5 million winner’s check. The schedule shows at least five other purse increases:

• The ANA Inspiration, $3 million, up $200,000 from 2018

• The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, $3.85 million, up $200,000

• The Evian Championship, $4.1 million, up $250,000

• The Mediheal Championship, $1.8 million, up $300,000

• The Marathon Classic, $1,750,000, up $150,000

The U.S. Women’s Open paid out $5 million in prize money last year, but the USGA typically announces its purse increases closer to the event’s start. The AIG Women’s British Open hasn’t announced yet whether there will be a change from last year’s $3.25 million purse.

The biennial Solheim Cup is back on the schedule, with the Americans meeting the Europeans at Gleneagles in Scotland on Sept. 13-15.

The CME Group Tour Championship will once again serve as the season-ending event (Nov. 21-24), but as previously announced, the Race to the CME Globe has been revamped, so the season-long points race will now only determine the 60 players who qualify for the event and its rich purse.

“One look at our 2018 season shows the breadth of global talent on our tour,” Whan said, “and I have no doubt that 2019 will continue this upward trend.”