The first event of the new year sees South Africa’s big game out in force with reigning Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen, double US Open winner Retief Goosen and defending champion Charl Schwartzel all looking to make a fast start to 2011 at the Africa Open.
After the highs of 2010 with Europe’s Ryder Cup victory, Lee Westwood’s ascent to World Number One and three Major Championship successes including Oosthuizen’s stunning victory at St Andrews, the new calendar year holds plenty of promise for The European Tour, starting this week on South Africa’s Eastern Cape at the East London Golf Club.
The 2011 Race to Dubai has already witnessed plenty of drama and excitement with Spain’s Pablo Martin successfully defending his Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek Country Club before Ernie Els delighted the home fans with a thrilling victory in the 100th staging of the South African Open Championship before Christmas.
And after the three week break over the festive period, the action resumes with the Africa Open where 2009 champion Goosen is among those looking to notch an early victory after being denied by Els prior to Christmas.
“I like to start the year in East London,” he said. “It’s a great tournament and I like the golf course, which is pretty obvious after 2009. It’s a good place to get the season off to a fast start.”
Two injuries during 2010 interrupted his last campaign but now the ‘Goose’ is keen to get back to winning ways.
“I want to get back to the winner’s circle again,” he said. “I came close a couple of times but didn’t win at all last year. It was a consistent year and I had a chance to win quite a few tournaments, but I struggled to put together four good rounds.
“I had a few top ten and top five finishes but there was always that one bad round that cost me a victory. My ball striking needs to improve but on the positive side, I began putting nicely. Now I want to get back to winning ways.”
While Goosen tasted victory in 2009, it was only last year that the event became co-sanctioned with The European Tour and then it was the turn of pre-tournament favourite Schwartzel, who made a phenomenal start to the year by winning both the Africa and Joburg Open titles in successive weeks.
The first of those two defences begins on Thursday, and after finishing second and fourth in the first two events on The 2011 Race to Dubai, Schwartzel will again start among the pre-event favourites.
Oosthuizen, meanwhile, will be making his debut in the event having chosen to start his year as Open Champion on home soil.
“I’ve never played in the Africa Open so I’m really looking forward to it,” said Oosthuizen. “And the conditions are likely to be windy, which I like. I played the East London Golf Club course as an amateur and I remember the 18th and second holes, and it being a fair test with plenty of birdie opportunities but also a lot of bogey opportunities.”
In addition to the strong home contingent, the field also contains a healthy mix of international stars including European Ryder Cup Vice-Captain Darren Clarke, runner-up to Goosen in 2009, former Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Chris Wood, and graduates from the Challenge Tour and Qualifying School looking to make an early impression after gaining promotion for the 2011 season.
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