Friday, 19 March 2010
Alfred Dunhill Championships - Previews  (Getty Images)
Alfred Dunhill Championships - Previews (Getty Images)

Ernie Els returns this week to the scene of one of his sweetest wins - and one of his biggest blunders.

The former Open Championship and double US Open Championship winner is the star attraction in the Alfred Dunhill Championship on home soil at Leopard Creek in Mpumalanga.

The opening event of The 2010 Race to Dubai Els is seeking his first victory since March last year on the course where he triumphed by three at the end of 2005.

What made that special was that it was only his second tournament back from serious knee surgery following a sailing accident that summer.

"It's a dream - after an injury like that you're unsure of the future and how it will react," said the South African.

On his last visit two years ago, however, Els was two ahead on the final tee and then incredibly twice found the lake, ran up a triple bogey eight and handed the title to a surprised John Bickerton.

The nightmare two years ago might be something he wants to forget, but one of his playing partners in the opening two rounds just happens to be Bickerton.

Not surprisingly, he is focusing on the good and not the ugly on his return.

"I love this tournament and the golf course that it's played on," said Els in his website diary.

"It has to be one of the most spectacular courses in the world, right on the edge of the Kruger National Park with the wildlife all around. It is pretty amazing."

Compatriot Richard Sterne is the defending champion, having beaten England's Robert Rock and Swede Johan Edfors by a shot last December.

But the man in form is unquestionably Italian Edoardo Molinari, who has won four of his last six events.

The first two of those were on The Challenge Tour, but then came the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan where he beat Robert Karlsson in a play-off.

The week after that he teamed up with brother Francesco to give Italy their first-ever Omega Mission Hills World Cup victory.

The former US Amateur champion finished only 147th on The European Tour two years ago and lost his card, but now he is ranked 59th in the world and a climb into the top 50 by the end of the year would take him back to the Masters Tournament in April.

Francesco is 40th and virtually guaranteed a debut at Augusta, which means there could be three Italians in the field. 16 year old British amateur champion Matteo Manassero will become the youngest ever player there.

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1MARTIN BENAVIDES, PabloESP18-17
2SCHWARTZEL, CharlRSA18-16
3HANSEN, AndersDEN18-14
T4MAYBIN, GarethNIR18-12
T4STERNE, RichardRSA18-12
T4ROCK, RobertENG18-12
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