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THE most prestigious golfing event in Zimbabwe — the R1.8million Golden Pilsener Zimbabwe Open — tees off this morning at the lush Royal Harare greens with the South African contingent, once again, having a very g presence in the field.

Defending champion Jake Roos of South Africa has returned and will play the same ball with compatriots James Kingston and Ulrich van den Berg when they go to the starting box shortly before 7:30am.

The 33-year-old Roos, who plays at Centurion Country Club in Pretoria, was yesterday getting a feel of the course in the Pro-Ams and remained cautious on his chances of retaining the title.

Last year, Roos stalked his opponents for much of the event before posting a final round of five-under-par 67 to finish the four rounds on 13-under par 274, while Italy’s Francesco Laporta was a shot behind.

It was a nail-biting finish as 2001 winner Darren Firchardt lipped-out his 45-foot birdie putt to avoid a play-off against his compatriot Roos on the 18th hole.

But for this year, there will be a little bit of pressure and expectations on Roos, unlike last year when he played as an underdog.

Despite the wave of expectations on him as the title holder, Roos cast a calm figure as he sampled the Royal Harare greens yesterday.

“The expectations are good, but I am not anticipating too much. I have enjoyed the course and it was my first day to play today (yesterday). The course is in good shape and the greens are in good state,” said Roos.

Although he is a professional golfer, Roos is also an avid table tennis player, who also finds time for his family.

Exactly a month ago, Roos took his career to another level when he won the Barclays Kenya Open title to claim his maiden European Challenge Tour win and a full exemption for the remainder of the 2014 season.

With prospects of playing in the more challenging European Tour brighter now, Roos hopes to build on the confidence he gathered at the Karen Golf Club.

“There are a lot of good players and I believe the competition will be tough. It was good to win (in Kenya) and it gives me a lot of confidence ahead of this competition,” Roos said.

If Roos wins the Zimbabwe Open, of which it’s too early to predict at this stage, he will become only the second man after the legendary Zimbabwean golfer Nick Price to achieve the feat.

Zimbabwe Hall of Famer, Price, is the only man in the 24-year-history of the Zim Open to successfully retain the championship when he won it in 1997 at Chapman and then retained the title the following year, but this time at Royal Harare.

Trevor Fisher (Junior) is also in the mix after making a shout last year.

Yesterday, Fisher (Jnr) was also playing in the Pro-Am where he had one or two things to show to one of the tournament co-ordinators Tendai Gwatiriga about playing the ball on the fairways instead of the woods.

With 156 entries from across the world, Fisher (Jnr) feels he has a chance to clinch this trophy for the first time in his career.

“There are 156 players and I am aiming to beat all of them. It’s going to be tough but I just have to play my best,” said Fisher (Jnr).

Fisher (Jnr) feels that he now has a better understanding of the course and hopes that knowledge will work to his aantage.

“Number 18 is quite a good hole as well, you have to get a good tee shot, but there is number 10, which is a little difficult, there is a small green. The rough looks nice and thick and it appears we must try to keep it (the ball) in the fairway this week,” said Fisher (Jnr).

With the skies threatening to open up, Fisher (Jnr) said they may be forced to play in wet weather, just like in the 2011 competition.

“We do not know if it’s going to rain or not but if it does, we just have to put on rain suits and (open our) umbrellas and we go on,” said Fisher (Jnr)

The field today will also include 1999 champion Jean Hugo, 2013 runner-up Larpota, Thenius Spangenberg (2011) and Jb’e Kruger.

But Zimbabwean players are on home turf and will be all out to give their best with seasoned Sunshine Tour campaigners like Tongo Charamba, Ryan Cairns and Ignatius Mketekete making part of the field.

Besides the South Africans, the locals have a big number of entries with top amateur Stuart Krog, Peter Banda, Phillip Tshuma, Simon Katembenuka, Ryan Lang, Scott Vincent and veteran Day Muyambo in the field.

While winning the competition could be out of the reach for most golfers, there is the added incentive of a brand new Jaguar XF for a golfer who hits the first eagle on the 18th hole after the cut.

Augustine Hwata Senior Sports Reporter

Source : The Herald