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Tuesday, 08 January 2002
Following the Festive Season break, The 2002 European Tour International Schedule resumes this week with the third event of the 2002 Volvo Order of Merit, the £500,000 Bell's South African Open, at The Country Club in Durban.

The tournament is the first of two in South Africa - next week seeing the dunhill championship staged at Houghton Golf Club in Johannesburg - and together the 'Springbok Swing' will offer £1 million in prize money.

New tournament sponsor, Bell's Whisky, joins forces with The European Tour for the first time since the company relinquished their backing of the Scottish Open at Gleneagles Hotel in 1994 and they give their name to the world's second oldest Open Championship - the event, having started in 1893, behind only the Open Championship in vintage.

Louis Martin, Chief Executive of The Sunshine Tour which will jointly sanction the event with The European Tour, said: "It is wonderful news for the South African Open that a sponsor of Bell's prominence has chosen to back our flagship event.

"We are especially pleased that the reigning US Open Champion and European Number One, Retief Goosen, will support the event and I am sure, along with his fellow competitors, he is looking forward to playing at the magnificent Durban Country Club."

Alongside Goosen in the high-quality field will be Ernie Els, whom he partnered to success in the World Golf Championships - EMC² World Cup in Japan last November, a victory which confirmed Goosen as the Asprey & Garrard Golfer of the Year.

Els will relish a return to The Country Club for, in 1998, it was the scene of his third victory in the tournament, following earlier wins at Houghton Golf Club in 1992 and at Royal Cape in 1996.

Four years ago, the double US Open Champion dominated the event from day one when he carded a superb eight under par 64 and eventually won by three shots from compatriot David Frost with Sweden's Patrik Sjöland a distant seven shots in arrears.

Also in the field will be Zimbabwe's Mark McNulty, who will tee up as defending champion having claimed his 16th European Tour title in the event at East London Golf Club last January.

The 48 year old held a slender one shot lead coming down the 72nd hole but showed why he has remained at the top of the game for so many years when he confidently rolled in a 20 foot putt for par and the title. McNulty narrowly edged Justin Rose into second place, and the young Englishman will attempt to go one better this year and claim his maiden European Tour success.

In many ways, The Country Club in Durban is the spiritual home of the South African Open, and this week will see it play host for the 15th time, more than any other venue in the tournament's rich history.

It was first played there in 1924, two years after the course was opened, and its Champions' Roll of Honour reads like a Who's Who of Golf, including luminaries such as Bob Charles, Bobby Locke and Gary Player, whose 13 wins between 1956 and 1981 remains the tournament record.

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