Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel is aiming to complete a hat-trick of Joburg Open titles this week, and has set his sights even higher for 2012.
The South African has won the last two editions of the tournament at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, and is looking to make as successful a start to this season as the previous two.
“I’m up for the challenge,” said Schwartzel. “If I can win this week it would be the first time that I’ve won a tournament three times in a row. So I’ve got something to play for.
“As for my other goals, it would be fantastic to be able to retain my Masters title. It will be a tough task, but I’d like to see if I can win it again. Then, obviously, the World Ranking is a goal. I made it into the top ten last year and I want to see if I can just keep climbing.
“Luke Donald is obviously playing very well and it will take some time to catch him. But I’ve got to keep moving closer, and the long-term goal is to become world number one.”
The 27 year old won the last two Joburg Opens in convincing style, by six shots in 2010 and by four in 2011.
“The East Course is playing long, but I still think the scoring will be low,” he added. “I’m always looking for a quick start to the year just to get the mind going in the right direction, and this is a great place to do that.”
Should Schwartzel make it a hat-trick, he would join an exclusive band of players to win the same official European Tour event three years in a row, matching the achievements of Ian Woosnam (1990-92 Monte Carlo Open), Sir Nick Faldo (1991-93 Irish Open), Colin Montgomerie (1998-2000 PGA Championship), Ernie Els (2002-04 Heineken Classic) and Tiger Woods (2005-07 WGC-CA Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational).
“It is a golf course I’ve played many times as an amateur and junior and I grew up not too far away from Royal Johannesburg so it is always nice to play the course,” said Schwarztel. “I’ve always got a good feel when I go back there and always enjoy playing the Joburg Open.
“I get to play a tournament and stay at home in my own bed, which is very cool. It is great for South Africa to have three European Tour events at the start of the year too.”
Leading the challenge to deny Schwartzel a trio of titles will be another South African Major Champion, Retief Goosen, who began his 2012 campaign by finishing third last week, three shots behind Louis Oosthuizen.
Two-time US Open Champion Goosen, who endured an injury-plagued 2011, is a prolific winner on home soil and will be hoping to add to the Joburg Open title to his collection of 14 European Tour victories.
“I’m working my way back and it’s been nice to have chances to win in my last few tournaments,” he said.
The strong home contingent also includes Richard Sterne, the 2008 Joburg Open champion, who finished sixth in last week’s Africa Open and compatriot Tjaart Van der Walt, who pushed Oosthuizen all the way before coming up two strokes short at East London Golf Club.
Argentine Ariel Canete is another former champion in the field, having won the title in 2007, the first year the tournament was co-sanctioned by The European Tour and the Sunshine Tour.
With 210 players – 206 professionals and four amateurs – the Joburg Open has the largest field of the 2012 season.
It is also one of only three events on the 2012 International Schedule – along with the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Barclays Singapore Open – to be played on two or more courses, with the field playing the first 36 holes over the East Course and West Course before the halfway cut of the top 65 players and ties head into weekend battle for the lion’s share of the €1.3 million prize fund.