Charl Schwartzel’s “favourite tournament” of the season will take on even greater significance this week as he seeks to defend the Alfred Dunhill Championship title he won in such spectacular fashion 12 months ago.
One week after triumphing at the Thailand Open by 11 shots, the Major Champion romped to victory by 12 strokes to record the third largest winning margin in European Tour history.
It was Schwartzel’s second win in the tournament, having won the first of his eight European Tour titles at Leopard Creek Country Club in 2005, when the then-20 year old defeated England’s Neil Cheetham with a birdie in the first hole of the play-off.
It is thus unsurprising that the stunning Leopard Creek Country Club will always hold a special place in Schwartzel’s heart.
He said: “I think about Leopard Creek the whole time – it’s probably my favourite tournament of the year. I’m always really excited to go back, and especially this year as I’ll be defending my title.
“It’s one of my favourite courses in the whole world, and it treated me pretty well last year. I’ve always felt very comfortable around there in the past, so hopefully that can continue this week – although I don’t expect to win by 12 shots again!”
Schwartzel goes into this week’s €1.5million tournament, which is the second event in The 2014 Race to Dubai, on the back of a tied fourth place finish in last week’s South African Open Championship hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni.
The 2011 Masters Tournament champion is one of 62 home players in the field, with George Coetzee amongst the players bidding to keep the trophy in South African hands.
Coetzee arrives in Malelane on the back of a top 20 finish in last week’s ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf.
Coetzee boasts a fine record in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, having finished tied tenth and last year and third the year before, and the 27 year old is hopeful of continuing that trend this week.
He said: “I just love Leopard Creek, it has to be my favourite course in the world. They always treat us really well there and the course is always immaculate, so it’s the perfect combination. The location is just stunning, so it’s always a pleasure to play there.
“I feel like I’m not far away from the level I want to be at. I’m striking the ball better and my putting is also getting better, so I’m slowly getting the rust out of the system after a few months off with my wrist injury. The wrist feels fine now, so I feel well rested and ready to go.”
Other notable names in the field include Major Champion John Daly of America and former winners Pablo Martin, Garth Mulroy and Richard Sterne.