An eclectic field of blossoming stars and seasoned campaigners is this week preparing to line up in the second edition of the €2million Volvo Golf Champions at its new home, the Links at Fancourt, all hoping to add the €350,000 winner’s cheque and another trophy to the victories that secured them a place in The European Tour’s ‘tournament of champions’.
And while Paul Casey, the winner of the inaugural event held last year at the Royal Golf Club course in Bahrain, is absent due to a snowboarding injury picked up in the winter break, 2011 Major Champions Darren Clarke (The Open Championship) and Charl Schwartzel (Masters Tournament) lead a stellar cast in what promises to be a thrilling contest over the celebrated links layout at Fancourt in George, South Africa.
Clarke and Schwartzel are joined by six other Major winners at this year’s event – Volvo’s 125th title sponsorship in professional golf – including South African native Ernie Els and his compatriot Retief Goosen, who was victorious in the Tour’s only other trip to Fancourt at the South African Open in 2006.
Els, a three-time Major winner, qualified for the event after winning the South African Open Championship at the start of The 2011 European Tour International Schedule, and the 26-time European Tour winner is hoping to get his 2012 campaign underway in similar vein with victory at the Volvo Golf Champions.
He said: “Obviously I love playing in South Africa and have won five of my European Tour titles there. I have great memories of playing at the Links at Fancourt, both in professional events and when on holiday there, and I’m looking forward to trying to win The European Tour’s first true ‘tournament of champions’.
“South African golf is in great shape at the moment, which is apparent by the number of South Africans in the field. Dr. Hasso Plattner’s vision in creating The Links at Fancourt will provide the perfect stage to showcase the wonderful golf opportunities offered in South Africa.”
Indeed, the host nation is very well represented at this week’s event, as Els and Schwartzel are two of eight South Africans in a field which also includes 2001 and 2004 US Open Champion Goosen, 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen and The European Tour’s most recent champion, 23 year old Branden Grace, who triumphed in last week’s Joburg Open after regaining his card at the Qualifying School in December.
While there is a large presence of experience on show this week in George, including the present and former incumbents of The Ryder Cup Captaincy in José María Olazábal and Colin Montgomerie, the South African crowds will also be treated to appearances by two of the most promising emerging talents in European golf in 18 year old Italian Matteo Manassero and Englishman Tom Lewis, who turned 21 earlier this month.
Manassero has already achieved significant success in his embryonic career, notching wins at the 2010 Castelló Masters – with it becoming the youngest-ever winner on The European Tour – and the 2011 Maybank Malaysian Open, victories that both came before the prodigy’s 18th birthday.
Lewis burst onto the scene after posting the lowest round by an amateur in Open Championship history on the first day at Royal St. Georges in July 2011, before going on to claim a superb victory in only his third appearance as a professional at the Portugal Masters in October.
With such an enthralling blend of youth and experience taking to The Links at Fancourt on Thursday, all with their sights set on capturing yet more silverware, the stage is well-set for the engrossing plot that is sure to unfold over the coming week.
The Volvo Golf Champions is an exclusive, limited field event with no halfway cut, open only to European Tour players who have won an event on the previous year’s European Tour International Schedule, plus the winners of the first two events of the 2012 season - the Africa Open and the Joburg Open – with the only other exception being current Tour Members, under the age of 50, with more than ten European Tour victories.
An unprecedented gathering of global golfing talent will line up at the world-acclaimed Links at Fancourt, recently voted number one course in South Africa and designed by nine-time Major winner Gary Player.
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