Tuesday, 09 January 2018
Charl Schwartzel  (Getty Images)
Charl Schwartzel (Getty Images)

Charl Schwartzel believes he can lead a strong South African contingent to finally secure his first BMW SA Open hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni.

Player host and five-time South African Open winner Ernie Els heads the list of compatriots alongside double US Open champion Retief Goosen, 2003 Masters winner Trevor Immelman and European Tour victors Branden Grace, George Coetzee, Haydn Porteous and Dylan Frittelli at Glendower Golf Club.

Brandon Stone is the only South African to have won the event in the last five years and Schwartzel feels the barren run will come to an end at the weekend due to the strength of the local challengers.

He said: "If you take the history and the prestige of this tournament – being the second-oldest open championship in the world – it deserves the work that Ernie has put in as host to attract this field. For a South African, this is a big event. It's one of the tournaments you want to win.

"I think it's going to be a really good tournament. There's a nice bunch of good South Africans playing and I'm really looking forward to playing the South African Open again."

To win the South African Open is definitely one of my childhood dreams - Branden Grace

The Johannesburg native was five shots clear going into the final round at the event in 2015, and was still four shots ahead with five holes left before an error-strewn 74 led to a play-off hole with England's Andy Sullivan - who birdied the first extra hole to win his maiden European Tour title.

Schwartzel had not returned to the course since that day but overcame the memories which haunted him during practice this week as the 33 year old prepares for another tilt at a tournament he is desperate to win.

"It's great to be back," the 11-time European Tour winner added. "I haven't been here for a few years. Yesterday was the first time I played this course since I lost to Andy Sullivan in 2015 on that disastrous Sunday.

"There were glimpses of those memories that came back and it was nice to come back today and play in the pro-am and get over those memories. I never came back after that.

"That was one win I had in my hands but with a couple of bad shots down the stretch, it got away from me. It's definitely one of those that I want to get onto my CV."

Eight-time European Tour winner Grace is hoping to join Els in an exclusive group of securing South Africa's three most prestigious events with victory in Ekurhuleni.

"To win the South African Open is definitely one of my childhood dreams," the 29 year old said. "This is another of those tournaments that I grew up watching. If I win this, I can say I'm one of the few guys who has won the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the South African Open."

Fellow countryman Frittelli has posted under par scores in just two of his seven appearances at this event but he is looking to improve on his best finish of 18th as he eyes a place in the top 50 of the world rankings.

The 27 year old said: "Last year was the best year I have had as a professional so I have fond memories to look back on and really good end to the season. The tournament has grown so much. I definitely have fun memories."

Els is delighted to be back on home soil and is hoping to roll back the years this week.

Hopefully I can get some of the old magic back and have a good week - Ernie Els

He said: "I feel healthy and I want to play some golf, especially in front of my home crowd.

"Hopefully I can get some of the old magic back and have a good week.

"I'm fortunate to have won this five times and it's been amazing every single time.

"I have so many great memories of this tournament, including playing with some of the greatest golfers in the game. 

"It's good to be here as a 48-year-old and still competing in my national open."

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1PAISLEY, ChrisENG18-21
2GRACE, BrandenRSA18-18
3RITCHIE, JCRSA18-16
T4VINCENT, ScottZIM18-14
T4KRUYSWIJK, JacquesRSA18-14
T4BLAAUW, JacquesRSA18-14

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