South African James Kingston will be bidding for back-to-back titles when the Joburg Open gets underway this week.
Fresh from his inaugural European Tour victory at the South African Airways Open last month, Kingston is one of the favourites for the second Joburg Open, held at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
Kingston will be keen to continue the outstanding form he showed at the end of 2007 when, despite difficult playing conditions at the Pearl Valley Golf Estates, he carded a final round of 71 to take the South African Airways Open.
His overall score of four under par 278 saw him finish one stroke clear of his nearest challenger, England’s Oliver Wilson and earned Kingston a long overdue victory after eight seasons and a number of runners-up finishes on The European Tour.
Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, who showed a welcome return to form by finishing a further shot behind Wilson, has also added his name to the entries for the Joburg Open field, following the late postponement of The Royal Trophy, scheduled to be played last week in Bangkok.
Clarke had originally been named in Seve Ballesteros’ team to take on Asia at the annual Ryder Cup-style event, but the tournament was suspended due to the death of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana.
Clarke said: “I went to South Africa before Christmas because I felt I needed to get competitive again, and played pretty well in both events.
“At Leopard Creek in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, I didn’t quite finish it off. But then in the South African Airways Open I played well, controlling my ball flight in the wind better than for a long time. With a few putts dropping, I could really have changed the outcome.
“I always enjoy my trips to South Africa, and can’t wait to play. I’ve worked hard over Christmas, and I’m now looking forward to getting my year off to a fast start and putting myself into the Ryder Cup picture.”
Clarke will be joined in the field by last year’s champion Ariel Canete, who had been destined for a season on the European Challenge Tour before opting to play in Johannesburg and securing the victory which guaranteed a two year exemption on The European Tour.
Twelve months ago the 31 year old Argentine captured his maiden European Tour title with a final round score of 67. Canete’s 19 under par total saw him finish two strokes clear of his nearest rival, South African Andrew McLardy, who will again compete in this year’s event.
“I am very excited about returning to South Africa,” said Canete. “It was a fantastic experience to win last year and one that opened a lot of doors for me.”
The tournament will feature 204 professionals (102 players each from The European Tour and the Sunshine Tour in the co-sanctioned event) and will be played over both the East and West Courses at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club over the first two rounds. A cut to 65 and ties will follow before the final two rounds are played on the East Course, a decision which pleased Canete. “I am especially fond of the East Course and I hope I can use it to make a successful defence,” he said.