South Africa has given Anders Hansen plenty to celebrate over the last 12 months and he will be targeting further success this week when he defends his title at the Joburg Open.
The Dane’s triumph at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club a year ago was the catalyst for an impressively consistent season, during which he notched nine top 20 finishes – including second place at the Mercedes-Benz Championship after losing a play-off to James Kingston – en route to finishing 24th in The Race to Dubai.
Hansen’s form in Africa continued in the same vein at the start of the 2010 season as he finished third in both the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek and the South African Open Championship at Pearl Valley Golf Estates, and his position in the latter was enough for him to win the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit – becoming the first European to do so since 1972.
After almost a month’s break over the Christmas period, Hansen has returned to South Africa in search of more glory, and will attempt to become the first player to successfully defend the Joburg Open, which he won by one shot from Andrew McLardy in 2009.
“I like being here, my coach is from here and I’m always treated very well here so I feel very much at home,” he said. “The courses we play are always great too. Of course, my goal is to win this week. The goal is always to succeed.
“It’s been difficult preparing because I’ve come here from home where we have three feet of snow. But this season I just want to try and carry on from last season. Last year was great so I’ve just got to keep it up. There are a couple of things I need to work on, to improve, so I’ll be trying to do that at the same time as keeping the momentum going.”
A number of players will be hoping to thwart Hansen’s quest including Charl Schwartzel, who had to settle for second in the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit last season but bounced back in superb style by winning the Africa Open at East London Golf Club last week.
Schwartzel heads a strong South African challenge which also includes Richard Sterne, a two-time champion on The European Tour last season and Joburg Open champion in 2008, as well as Thomas Aiken and Trevor Fisher Jnr, who finished second and third respectively at East London.
Chris Wood, The Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year in 2009, is among the European contingent heading to Johannesburg to contest the €1.3million prize fund, as is Simon Khan, who won Qualifying School – Final Stage in Spain last month.
Edoardo Molinari, who was the runaway winner of the Challenge Tour Rankings last season before winning the Omega Mission Hills World Cup with his brother Francesco, is also playing. His season has started promisingly with joint 15th place in the Alfred Dunhill Championship and tied fourth in the South African Open Championship.
The Joburg Open is one of only three events on The 2010 European Tour International Schedule to be played over two or more courses – the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Barclays Singapore Open being the others – with the 206-strong field playing over the East and West Courses at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.