South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel returns to one of his favourite hunting grounds this week looking for a second victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship after near misses in the past two seasons at Leopard Creek Golf Club in Mpumalanga.
Schwartzel claimed his maiden European Tour title when he won the Alfred Dunhill Championship at the start of The 2005 European Tour International Schedule and followed that with runners-up finishes in 2006, behind Ernie Els, and last year behind Spain’s Alvaro Quiros Garcia.
Last season he added a second European Tour title when he captured the Open de España having earlier topped the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit for a third successive season – matching the feat achieved in the past by Mark McNulty – and he will again be looking for a strong week in the event jointly sanctioned by The European Tour and the Sunshine Tour.
Another of The European Tour’s most promising young players in the field is England’s Ross Fisher, back in action at a course where he finished joint fourth a year ago and brimming with confidence following his runners-up finish to Phil Mickelson on his last start in the HSBC Champions. He will no doubt also have an extra spring in his step having married his fiancée, Joanne, last month.
Elsewhere, all eyes will be on the World Number Five Els as he attempts to pen another chapter for himself in golf’s record books. Since 1972, outside the Major Championships and World Golf Championships, only three golfers have won a single European Tour Order of Merit event on four or more occasions; Bernhard Langer, who won five German Opens and four German Masters, Nick Faldo who won four PGA Championships at Wentworth Club, and Seve Ballesteros who captured the Open de France four times.
Now Els has a chance to join that exclusive club when he attempts to win the Alfred Dunhill Championship for a fourth time, his previous victories coming in the 1995 season at the Wanderers Club, in the 1999 season at Houghton Golf Club, and in the 2006 season at Leopard Creek.
Els arrives at Leopard Creek having finished third in last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge and will be chasing his 25th European Tour title.
European Tour history was made in last year’s tournament, when Quiros Garcia became the first player to win a European Tour event in his first event as a full Member, having graduated from the 2006 European Tour Qualifying School.
This time around another new class arrives in South Africa looking to make a similar impression on The European Tour. Qualifying School winner Martin Wiegele of Austria leads the cast along with two past winners of the event in the German pair of Marcel Siem and Sven Strüver, both of whom regained their Tour cards through the six-round examination at San Roque.
The Alfred Dunhill Championship will also see a number of Challenge Tour graduates in action with Frenchman Michael Lorenzo-Vera, winner of last season’s Challenge Tour Rankings, top of the list.
The Alfred Dunhill Championship is the first of three counting events in South Africa towards the 2008 Order of Merit, preceding the South African Airways Open at Pearl Valley Golf Estate next week, while the second Joburg Open takes place at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club from January 10-13, 2008.