A pair of Major Champions will headline a star-studded field at Houghton Golf Club in Johannesburg this week as the re-titled dunhill championship completes The European Tour’s fortnight in the South African sunshine.
Retief Goosen, the reigning US Open Champion and 2001 Volvo Order of Merit winner, double US Open Champion Ernie Els will tee up in the seventh staging of the prestigious tournament.
Paul Lawrie, the third Major winner originally in the field, was forced to withdraw less than 24 hours before his tee time due to a back injury.
Goosen will be looking for his first victory while Els will be keen to repeat his Houghton success of 1999 when four excellent rounds in the 60s saw him spreadeagle the field to win by four shots.
Lawrie and Els were looking forward to locking horns again, having had good reason to recall their last close encounter in a event under the same sponsorship banner, namely the dunhill links championship at St Andrews last October.
On that occasion the South African could only look on as the Scot holed a 40 foot birdie putt from the 'Valley of Sin' on the Old Course to secure the title and the 881,250 euro (£551,040) first prize. It also won Lawrie The European Tour Shot of the Year.
Aside from Els, other past champions taking part are Germany's Sven Strüver, successful over 54 holes in 1996, and Anthony Wall of England, who triumphed in the first European Tour event of the new millennium in January 2000 and finished a creditable fifth last year.
Wall commented: "It's a very good test. It's always in great condition too, even when it had the amount of rain we experienced when I won in 2000. It holds up excellently and shows how well the course is designed."
Other players hoping to make an impression are the last three winners of The European Tour Qualifying School - Alastair Forsyth of Scotland, who finished tied fifth in last week’s Bell’s South African Open, Desvonde Botes of South Africa, and the most recent recipient of the Number One card, Sweden's Johan Skold.
Also competing this week will be England’s Justin Rose, who returns to Houghton keen to go one better than last year when he was pipped for the title by another of The European Tour’s young guns, Australian Adam Scott.
The 21 year olds, born just 14 days apart, were separated by the margin of only one stroke at the conclusion of a superb tournament which saw Scott claim his maiden title on The European Tour with a 21 under par total of 267.
Rose matched Scott's closing round of 69 but the Johannesburg-born Englishman, who reached international prominence by finishing tied fourth in the 1998 Open Championship as an amateur, could not quite force a play-off.
Houghton is one of the well-established Johannesburg suburban courses which has hosted many tournaments over the years. It is a demanding layout with many interesting holes on an attractive tract of land containing old trees and flowering shrubs.