East London GC plays host to the latest stop on The Race to Dubai this week, the Africa Open, as another strong line-up of home heroes look to replicate the success of Darren Fichardt 12 months ago.
This is the seventh European Tour event to be held on the tip of the African continent this season, with plenty of success coming for players who have taken advantage of being back on familiar ground.
George Coetzee has become the latest player to pick up a maiden title, and on home soil no less, after his Joburg Open victory at the weekend, which has come at the end of a run that has seen Charl Schwartzel, Dawie Van der Walt and Louis Oosthuizen all triumph.
No player of another nationality has ever won this event, which suggests that one of the countless South African’s teeing it up this week could be celebrating come Sunday afternoon, and there are plenty of candidates worth keeping an eye on as a result.
Coetzee may have taken the glory at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington GC, but just behind him in joint second was Justin Walters, while Thomas Aiken finished in a tie for fifth place, putting these two amongst the favourites on the south east coast.
Strangely enough, Aiken has never won a European Tour event in his native South Africa, taking the title at both the 2011 Open de España and last year’s Avantha Masters in India. This will be something that the World Number 113 would like to remedy, and on this form, there would be no surprise if he were to do so.
Walters, on the other hand, while in good form has never won a European Tour event, having only just completed a maiden season after having graduated from the Challenge Tour in 2012.
Last year was a struggle at times for the Joburg native who now makes his home in the South East of England, but having secured his card for this season thanks to a fine runner-up finish at the Portugal Masters last October, he has since started to show some of his best form.
Walters will also be in buoyant mood having earned a first start at the Open Championship to be held at Royal Liverpool GC in July, having been one of three men to earn their spots as part of the R&A’s new Qualifying Series last week in Johannesburg.
There will be plenty of European talent looking to spoil the South African party in East London this week though, with the likes of Frenchman Grégory Bourdy, Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey and England’s Robert Rock headlining the challenge.
The latter of those, Rock, has recently looked back to something like his best with a tie for 22nd place at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at the end of January followed up by a share of fifth at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Morten Ørum Madsen has also tasted plenty of success on South African soil this season, picking up a maiden victory at the South African Open Championship hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni last November, a result which also makes him a front runner this week.