JOHANNESBURG, 24 April 2017 – JC Ritchie did it before he won the Zimbabwe Open on Sunday and now Anton Haig hopes a timely return to the IGT Challenge Tour will also spark a winning performance for him on the Sunshine Tour’s Big Easy circuit next week. The former European Tour winner came out of early retirement early last year and made an explosive start on the country’s premier development golf circuit. He racked up a hat-trick of titles and top 10 finishes in all but one of his 11 starts, but Haig’s long awaited comeback screeched to a halt when he had to go under the knife for right hip and knee surgery in late August. The 29-year-old Nelspruit golfer made an impressive return to competitive golf on Monday, showing few signs of rustiness as he negotiated the spectacular Killarney Country Club layout in five-under-par 65. And his early target went unmatched as Pieter Moolman clocked in with a 67 to finish second, Maritz Wessels settled for third with a 68 and Mpho Mafishe and Bennie van der Merwe returned rounds of 69 to tie for fourth. “I was really pleased with the way I played after so many months out,” said Haig. “I was only able to start chipping and putting in January and I wasn’t even hitting full shots yet when I teed it up in the Dimension Data Pro-Am in February. Two weeks before the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School I finally starting hitting full shots, so I went to Q-School with zero expectations. “It’s been eight very frustrating months, especially after the strong start I made last year. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Garth (Milne) and Tania (Kearney) at the Wanna Be A Champion Golf Academy out at Serengeti. We worked flat out to get me back to form and they really kept me going, both mentally and physically, these past months.” Haig rarely missed a putt and was helped in no small measure by the accuracy of his short irons as he mixed two bogeys with seven birdies to hit the front. “I wasn’t feeling very confident beforehand so I am absolutely pleased with my score,” he said. “It wasn’t a pretty round, but I kept the ball in play and the short game was spot on. It’s really great that the first Big Easy is also at Killarney, so I am getting a good look at the course. “It’s not a long hitter’s course and you really have to use your head around this layout. I barely hit a driver all day; mostly hit three woods and long irons, because you have to be in the right spots to go for the pins. “I reckon if JC could put in a couple of rounds on the IGT Challenge Tour and beat Trevor (Fisher Jnr) in a play-off, there is hope for me yet. I’m trying a few things to get match fit for next week and the IGT Challenge Tour is the place to do it. “It’s really great to be back; the tour’s like family now and it’s a great circuit to get the rust off and the competitive juices flowing again. My health is strong, my head is in the right space and I putted really well to make a solid start. That’s a lot to be thankful for.”
FIRST ROUND SCORES (Top 20) 65 - Anton Jason Haig 67 - Pieter Moolman 68 - Maritz Wessels 69 - Bennie van der Merwe, Mpho Mafishe 70 - Tristan Barnard AMA, Simon Kruger, Michael Dreyer, Eric Nel AMA, Quintin Crause, Warrick Druian 71 - Duane Keun, CJ Levey, Jack Duthie, Arno Pretorius AMA, Divan Marais, Basil Wright 72 - Tudor Bismark (ZIM), Ruhan van Dijk AMA, Ruan Korb, Nic Watson AMA, Clinton Grobler
PHOTO – Anton Haig; credit CJ du Plooy.
Written and released by Lali Stander on behalf of the IGT Challenge Tour. ... See MoreSee Less
Ritchie claims maiden Sunshine Tour win at Zimbabwe Open
HARARE, April 23 - JC Ritchie saw off Trevor Fisher Jnr. on the second play-off hole at Royal Harare Golf Club to win the 2017 Zimbabwe Open. After being seven-over-par after his first seven holes of the tournament, Ritchie bounced back with 29 birdies to tie Fisher on 16-under-par for the week. “I actually started the week off quite rough. I was seven-over-par after seven holes. I made that eagle-two on the ninth and that’s where it turned around for me,” explained Ritchie. The IGT Challenge Tour graduate sealed the dramatic win with a right to left 13-foot putt on the 18th green, which epitomised his putting display during the week. “That was unreal golf. I really enjoyed it and never really felt like I was out of contention. It was one of the best putting expositions I’ve had in my entire life,” he said. Fisher started his final round strongly, however three bogeys in a row at the turn saw his three-shot lead disappear. An eagle at the par-five 16th saw him shoot back into a two-shot lead, but a double-bogey on the 17th made for a play-off with Ritchie. “I felt last night that 63 today would definitely win by one. I didn’t expect Fish to make double on the 17th, he was playing unreal golf. When I got onto 15 tee box I knew I needed three more [birdies]. I hit an unreal second shot into 16 and lipped out for eagle,” Ritchie said. The win is his first on the Sunshine Tour and it promises to set up a good run of form for the remainder of the season.