Major Champions Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman will bring their considerable presence to the South African Open Championship this week at the magnificent Pearl Valley Golf Estates.
The South African trio, along with the European contingent of Darren Clarke, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood, will be among the star attractions in the Western Cape, the 156-strong field having gathered to contest the second oldest national Open Championship in golf.
Such a prestigious tournament deserves the best platform and, in Pearl Valley, it certainly has that. Owned by Leisurecorp, The European Tour’s partner in The Race to Dubai, the Jack Nicklaus signature course will test the very best, a fact alluded to by Alan Rogers, Group CEO of Leisurecorp who said: “I believe that Pearl Valley Golf Estates is the finest golf experience in South Africa.”
It will be a special week for several people but perhaps none more so than Immelman, who plays in his home Open for the first time as a Major Champion, having made the breakthrough at Augusta National in April this year when he became the first South African to win the Masters Tournament since Gary Player in 1978.
It is an appropriate setting for Immelman to do just that, for the tournament itself was where he made his European Tour breakthrough with back-to-back victories at Erinvale Golf Club in 2003 and 2004.
With five of golf’s grandest titles between them, Els and Goosen are no strangers to teeing up in front of their home fans as Major winners.
The South African Open will, however, represent a significant ‘first’ for the duo in that it will be the pair’s first appearance in The Race to Dubai and both will be looking for a winning start to the new era on The European Tour International Schedule.
If any of the international players in the field at Pearl Valley are to wrest the title away from South Africa’s best, including defending champion James Kingston, they will have to do so against the odds.
The South African Open Championship has seen just nine ‘foreign’ winners since it was first played in 1903, but the likes of Clarke, Rose, Stenson and Westwood certainly have the pedigree to upset the odds.
Stenson is certainly a strong favourite having found his best form of the year as 2008 draws to a close.
The Swede is eyeing a quick-fire hat-trick of victories in the space of four weeks having partnered his compatriot Robert Karlsson to Omega Mission Hills World Cup success in China before flying to South Africa to secure the Nedbank Golf Challenge – performances which saw him secure The European Tour Golfer of the Month award for November.
Should he triumph, he would join Clarke, Rose and Westwood who have all enjoyed success in tournaments in South Africa in the past; Clarke’s last victory in the country having been the 2001 Dimension Data Pro-Am, while Rose won both the dunhill championship and the Nashua Masters in 2002 and Westwood claimed the Nelson Mandela Invitational, in partnership with Simon Hobday, in 2003.