The European Tour Fantasy Race heads to one of the game’s oldest and most revered tournaments – the 101st SA Open Championship – and we’re here to tell you who we fancy for a title tilt this week.
A tournament of this calibre is always going to have a long and prestigious roll of honour, and the name of one truly modern great stands out more than most this week. He has won his national Open on three occasions, and is the defending champion this week, it is of course Ernie Els.
For nearly two decades now The Big Easy has been one of the most successful and adored players in the game, thanks to his silky smooth action and warm demeanour, and as he returns home this week he will be looking to replicate the kind of form that saw him win this title in 1998, 2007 and last year. This season has been a bit more of a struggle for Els, since his victory at Durban Country Club last year, and while the event heads to a brand new venue this week he will be looking to rekindle his form in front of the home galleries. He will no doubt be looking to draw on his wealth of experience and accurate iron play – where he currently ranks third on Tour in greens in regulation – to mount a challenge. If he can do this, there would be no surprise if he were to wind up the champion for a fourth time this weekend.
The new guard of South African golf have been taking the headlines of late with Masters Champion Schwartzel and Oosthuizen celebrating Major success in the past two years, but as these two head to China to represent their country in the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, another of the old guard will be looking to find his way back to winning ways. Retief Goosen finished second to Els in this event last year in a thrilling Sunday showdown, and has since fared a little better than his 2010 conqueror. Three top tens and four other top 20s is a decent return for 2011 so far, and a strong performance at last week’s President’s Cup should see the South African heading in with plenty of confidence. This is mainly down to the fact that he currently leads The European Tour in putts per round and ranks third in puts per GIR. If he gets his swing on song, the confidence he has with the putter could really see him contend. He won the title in 2006 so has previous form and is well worth having in your Fantasy team.
Simon Dyson has always been a bit of a confidence player, the proof being that in every season he has won on The European Tour, he has gone on to win a second time that year. However, this season seems a little different than those that have come before it. In 2011 Dyson has become a much more consistent challenger for titles and has won the Irish Open presented by Discover Ireland and the KLM Open convincingly. He has also spoken of a greater commitment and drive to be the best player he can be, and as a result has found himself as high as 28th on the Official World Golf Ranking this year. He also ranks ninth on the Race to Dubai, and with a strong end to the season could beat his previous best of eighth. With that in mind, it would be no surprise if Dyson were to make it three in a season for the first time in his career and cement his place as one of Europe’s finest heading into 2012.
Finally we have George Murray, who having had a testing first year on Tour has started to find his feet since his tie for third place at home in the Alfred Dunhill links Championship. An 18th place finish in Madrid followed, and last week he was in contention for all four rounds and chased home eventual champion Garth Mulroy, finishing two back of the South African for a career best of second. He now finds himself 77th in the Race to Dubai, when just a few weeks ago he had looked like losing his playing privileges for 2012. With that in mind, he currently lies a little over €100,000 outside the top 60 and with a first place offering of €158,500 available here at the Serengeti GC a win, or even a second place, here would catapult him right into contention for a place at the season-ending Dubai World Championship. He is clearly in good form, and comfortable in his South African surroundings, so it would be no surprise if he were to pick up his first European Tour title here this week.
Our Form Guides are available if you fancy making your own mind up this week, but either way, log into My European Tour and update your European Tour Fantasy team before the start of play on Thursday.