Defending champion George Coetzee and Major Champion Charl Schwartzel will head a strong home challenge in this week’s Tshwane Open, the fifth and final regular European Tour event held on South African soil this season.
Twelve months ago, Coetzee secured an emotional victory on the Gary Player Group-designed Championship Course at Pretoria Country Club, where he learned to play the game and is still the touring professional.
It was Coetzee’s second European Tour victory on home soil – his debut title came at the Joburg Open in 2014 – but, given his affinity with the host venue, it was one he treasured more.
Coetzee said: “It’s where I grew up. I played my first event there so to win last year was a dream come true. It’s my home course and I’ve got a lot of good memories, so I probably know the course better than anyone.
“But I still need to play very well to win. Knowing the course gives me a bit of a head start on some of the guys, but the standard on the tour is so high, just knowing the place well isn’t going to be enough. It is quite a thinker’s course though, so the guys who have played it before do have a bit of an advantage.
It was in great condition the last time I played, so I’m sure everyone is going to be impressed with it.
“I know I’m playing well, which only adds to the excitement of the tournament. I’ve struck the ball very well the last three weeks but mentally I haven’t been quite as sharp as I would’ve liked, maybe because I haven’t been used to posting really low scores for a while! But if I can get my head right, then I should have a good chance.”
If any further incentive were needed, he will be bidding to emulate the feats of his friend Branden Grace, who two weeks ago successfully defended his title in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, where Coetzee finished in a tie for seventh place.
The chief threat to Coetzee’s hopes of mounting a successful title defence could come from his compatriot Schwartzel, who is making his debut in the Tshwane Open.
Schwartzel has finished in the top ten in each of his last three appearances on the European Tour, including a fourth victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in November.
That four-shot win at Leopard Creek brought the 2011 Masters champion his tenth European Tour title and, remarkably, all but three of those have come at home.
Three of South Africa’s most promising young talents, including two of Schwartzel’s fellow winners from the 2016 European Tour International Schedule, will also be in the field.
Close friends Brandon Stone and Haydn Porteous have both entered the winners’ circle for the first time this season, at the BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni and the following week’s Joburg Open respectively.
Another of the nation’s brightest hopes, Zander Lombard, will also tee up in Waterkloof this week. The 21 year old, who finished runner-up in the Amateur Championship in 2014, came second behind Porteous, fourth in the Australian PGA Championship and in a share of 12th at the BMW SA Open.
Bradley Neil, the man who beat Lombard to the Amateur Championship title at Royal Portrush, has been handed a sponsor’s invitation as he continues his education in the professional arena.