After a three week hiatus for the festive period, The European Tour begins Ryder Cup year by returning to South Africa this week when the East London Golf Club hosts the Africa Open’s first appearance on the Tour’s International Schedule.
Richard Sterne, who opened the 2008 calendar year with a victory in the Joburg Open, will be targeting a similar start to 2010 as he attempts to continue his fine run of form on home soil.
Sterne, whose round of 61 in last year’s Africa Open is the course record at the East London Golf Club, captured the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the South African Open Championship in consecutive weeks at the start of last season and made admirable defences of both titles to open the current campaign, finishing tied fourth in the former and tied 18th in the latter prior to the Christmas break.
His back-to-back victories in 2009 made the 28 year old the early leader in the inaugural Race to Dubai and already in seventh place in the new Race, he will be aiming to climb higher in the Rankings.
The Africa Open is the third of four consecutive tournaments in South Africa which launch The 2010 European Tour Race to Dubai – following the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the South African Open Championship before Christmas and preceding the Joburg Open next week - and Sterne leads another strong home contingent in the field.
James Kingston, another European Tour winner on the 2009 International Schedule, will also be hoping to start the New Year by getting his hands on some more silverware, following his victory in the Mercedes-Benz Championship last season.
Also in the field is compatriot Charl Schwartzel, who finished second behind Spaniard Pablo Martin in the 2010 season opening Alfred Dunhill Championship and who is currently fifth in The Race to Dubai.
For Ryder Cup hopefuls including Darren Clarke and Nick Dougherty the aim for 2010 will be to secure their place in the contest between Europe and the United States in nine months time but their immediate focus is on the continent of Africa and the quest for silverware.
Northern Irishman Clarke, who finished second in the 2009 Africa Open, is aiming for a return to the European Team, and after two victories in 2008 saw him go close to securing a place on the plane for Valhalla he will be eager to play himself into contention once again, as will fellow former Ryder Cup players Peter Baker, Thomas Björn, Joakim Haeggman and Phillip Price, who are also in the field.
Englishman Dougherty, who is eyeing his maiden Ryder Cup appearance at The Celtic Manor Resort, will hope to recapture the form that saw him surge to an impressive victory in the BMW International Open last season.
Emerging talent Sam Hutsby, who finished second at Qualifying School to earn his 2010 card, continues his European Tour education in South Africa, having already recorded top 20 finishes in the CASTELLÓ MASTERS Costa Azahar and the Barclays Singapore Open at the end of last season.
The Africa Open joins The European Tour for the first time in 2010 having previously been played on the Sunshine Tour, with Retief Goosen capturing the title in 2009.
East London Golf Club is in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, from where The European Tour moves on to the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club next week for the Joburg Open to round off a four tournament swing in the country.