Reigning US Open Champion Angel Cabrera will lead a field that includes four Major winners when the South African Airways Open tees off at Pearl Valley Golf Estates this week.
Cabrera will join defending South African Airways Open champion Ernie Els, two time champion Retief Goosen and former World Number One Greg Norman on the fairways of the Jack Nicklaus-designed course for the sixth counting event towards The 2008 European Tour Order of Merit.
Cabrera returns to the tournament having claimed his first Major in the US Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club in June and will be keen to get back to the winners’ circle after having narrowly missed out in last week’s Abierto Visa de la Republica in his native Argentina on the European Challenge Tour, a late error handing the title to Paraguay’s Marco Ruiz.
In the same boat last week was Els who saw his chance of victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek disappear after a last hole slip-up allowed England’s John Bickerton to triumph.
However, if there is any tournament guaranteed to get the three time Major winner back on track it is the South African Airways Open, an event in which he has enjoyed an almost unparalleled record.
Apart from his two wins since the tournament became co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour in 1997 (in 1998 and 2007), the 38 year old also won in 1992 and 1996 and in his 13 appearances in total, he has recorded eight top three finishes and has only been out of the top ten twice.
In addition, Els’ winning 24 under par total of 264 at Humewood Golf Club in Port Elizabeth last year was the lowest in the tournament’s history, beating the previous record of 267 (-21) set by Tony Johnstone in 1993 at Royal Durban.
“I want to end 2007 on a high note,” said Els. “I would love to get a win on South African soil. I’ve got six weeks off after the South African Airways Open and that will be my break. So I feel like I still want to get some more out of this year.”
One player bang on form going into the tournament is South African Trevor Immelman who warmed up for an event he won in both 2003 and 2004, by triumphing in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City a week ago.
Immelman’s back-to-back victories in the South African Airways Open made him the first golfer since Gary Player in 1976/77 to achieve the feat and only seventh in the history of the championship – which dates back to 1893 – to successfully defend his title.
“The South African Airways Open is a tournament that’s very dear to my heart,” he said. “It’s also being played at Pearl Valley, which is one of my home courses.
“I’ve always ranked my two South African Airways Open titles really highly because it’s the second oldest tournament in the world, and because I won them down in the Cape where I’m from, which is such a special feeling.”