Steamy test in SA

 

THE third Europe South Africa cosanctioned golf tournament gets under way in the steamy conditions of Durban today with nine Irishmen keen to emulate the performance of a resurgent David Feherty, who shared second place with Ernie Els in last week's SAPGA championship.

Durban Country Club has long; been regarded as the best course in South Africa, and probably in Africa, so the field of 156 who take their places for the FNBPC should be in for a treat.

For three of the Irishmen, in fact, the treat is just being here. Ten days of incessant rain, added, to a standard of administration from the South African PGA that fell way short of what was required, persuaded several Europeans to return to the snow and ice rather than face a third week - of co sanctioned golf.

Francis Howley, David Higgins and 24 year old Padraig Harrington from Dublin were all mid way through Monday's practice round for the Kenyan Open in Nairobi when news filtered through that they were required in Durban. The purse of £400,000 is almost 10 times that in Nairobi, which accounts for their willingness to make the trip.

Harrington, a Walker Cup player and a professional for just six months, spent the whole of Tuesday beating a path to Durban to play his only practice round yesterday.

"It's a daunting course, narrow and difficult, but it's also beautiful," said Harrington.

Ronan Rafferty must be considered among the favourites if his form continues to improve at the rate seen last week in Houghton. In the space of three rounds the former Ryder Cup, player improved from a 74 to a 67 and looked to be swinging as sweetly as ever.

Darren Clarke, playing well from tee to green, needs to start sinking some putts. Clarke has a woeful record on the course having never made the cup.

Feherty, meanwhile, seems almost unnaturally happy and relaxed after the traumas of the last two years, and, if his recipe for success is to be believed, he, will be another to look out for this week.

John McHenry, a seasoned campaigner in South Africa, is also back for another try at the big money, as are Des Smyth, Eamon Darcy and Paul McGinley's.

. Top Irish club professional David Jones (48) celebrates his 25th appearance in the £65,000 Kenya Open championship in Nairobi today and is still planning for the future. He hopes to win a ninth PGA Cup team cap against America's club professionals later this year and he is already looking forward to life on the burgeoning PGA European; Seniors Tour.

Jones, nine times an Irish PGA champion and the club professional at Mount Ober, Belfast, will be 49 in June and said: "I'll soon be joining my old pals on the senior circuit and I'm looking forward to it." He is also aiming for a fourth win in both the British and Irish club professionals' championship.