We’re less than two months away from the first golf major of the season. The 2018 Masters Tournament at Augusta National is scheduled for the first week of April and if the last few years are anything to go by, the winner is anyone’s guess.
Men’s golf is about as open as any top-level sport right now with no clear frontrunner for any of the major crowns. There hasn’t been a South African winner of a major championship since Ernie Els at the 2012 Open Championship. The likes of Els, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen will all be vying for the biggest prizes in golf this year, but have any of them got a chance of winning one?
Rarely has men’s golf been as open as it is right now. All eight of the major championships in the last two years have been won by different players and as we head into the 2018 season, many are wondering if the same thing will happen again. The likes of Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are the early frontrunners in 2018, but how will the best South African players get on? Let’s look at four household names.
Branden Grace is an interesting prospect right now. The 29-year-old hasn’t yet achieved that elusive first major championship but has been consistently amongst the top ten and is performing well on the tour. Grace secured a European Tour win in November 2017 with a 1-stroke victory at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the twelfth professional win of his young career.
Currently the highest-ranked South African golfer, Branden Grace must be thinking about making the next step to a major winner. The Masters Tournament hasn’t been kind to him historically but he has performed well in the other three majors. The Masters may prove too much for the 29-year-old but he isn’t far from the frontrunners for June’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. He is the joint-fourteenth favourite according to bookmakers Betway who priced him at 40/1. If you are into golf betting, that might well be worth the gamble. This is a big year for Grace and it will be fascinating to see how he copes.
Louis Oosthuizen is currently placed 29th in the golf world ranking and holds as good a chance of winning a major championship in 2018 as any other South African golfer. The 35-year-old already has one major title to his name after winning the 2010 Open Championship. In recent years he has come frustratingly close to adding to that with four hugely unfortunate second-placed finishes, one in each of the majors.
He is often the darling of golf commentators thanks in part to his almost-flawless swing technique. This perhaps indicates that there are some psychological factors impeding Oosthuizen from a second major crown. He’s far from the favourite to win the 2018 Masters Tournament, at 50/1, but if he can overcome whatever is holding him back, then who knows how many titles he could win?
Charl Schwartzel was the most recent South African golfer to win the Masters Tournament. He picked up the green jacket back in 2011, but hasn’t really built on that win as many would’ve expected. He has picked up some victories on the European Tour but has been mostly inconsistent at the majors. One top-15 finish in his last 10 majors isn’t exactly what a player of Schwartzel’s calibre would be aiming for. It’s doubtful whether or not this is the year in which the 33-year-old can get his second major win, but it’s not out of the question.
The Big Easy has been one of the sport’s best-performing players in the last two decades. With four major wins and another 31 top-ten finishes, Ernie Els is always a player to look out for at golf’s biggest events. His last win, however, came way back in 2012, and his performances in recent years have been disappointing. His putting meltdown at the 2016 Masters is proof of that.
If Els’ performances were disappointing then his eventual finishing position was even more so. He hasn’t finished in the top 20 of a major tournament for three years, and has failed to make the cut in four of his last eight majors. A player who has won four majors should never really be discounted, but few expect Ernie Els to come close to competing in 2018.
Men’s golf is in a fascinating spot right now and the South African players are a key part of that. With the openness of the field right now, every player in the top 50 must be thinking that they can surprise everyone with a major win. The South African players will be no different and, of course, the likes of Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Ernie Els all have the experience of lifting one of golf’s four top titles. If that trio and Branden Grace can perform to the best of their ability, then 2018 could be a very good year for South African golf.