Monday, January 02, 2012


Louis Oosthuizen, one of The European Tour’s six Major Champions of the past two seasons, has the honour of being the defending champion in this week’s Africa Open as The 2012 Race to Dubai gets underway on Thursday.
A mere 25 days after Luke Donald ended the 2011 season as winner of The Harry Vardon Trophy in Dubai, the focus of The European Tour International Schedule shifts from the Middle East to the heart of Africa and the first of three events on that particular continent which herald the start of the 2012 season.
Twelve months ago Oosthuizen, pictured, still basking in the glory of his 2010 Open Championship triumph at St Andrews, produced a superb birdie three at the first play-off hole to capture the Africa Open title from Spain’s Manuel Quiros and Chris Wood of England.
Now the 29 year old South African returns home to the picturesque East London Golf Club hoping for a successful defence; which would be the ideal way to celebrate the imminent arrival of his second child.
“It is always fun defending a title so I’m just hoping that the week runs smoothly and that I don’t get a phone call from Nel-Mare or the doctor telling me to come home!” he said.
“But, funnily enough, sometimes it’s good to have your thoughts elsewhere and not solely on the golf. Of course, I’ll be focused on what I have to do on the course but in the back of my mind I’ll always be mentally checking on what’s going on at home.
“Obviously winning The Open was a dream come true for me but it was always a dream of mine as well to win a co-sanctioned tournament on The European Tour back home in South Africa. I had come close in the past at the Dunhill a few years back when Ernie won and in the SA Open the year James Kingston won, so to do it at East London last year was very satisfying.
“It’s a course where there are not a lot of driver holes and you should try and keep it low if you can. There are some tight fairways so you have to be careful, but it’s also a golf course where, if you take it on and succeed, you can really shoot low numbers. It is not a long course, it is all about position.”
Aside from Oosthuizen, the main draw in the Eastern Cape will be double US Open Champion Retief Goosen who has known both ends of the emotional rollercoaster that the Africa Open can produce; having missed the cut last year, but having claimed the title in 2009, the year before the tournament became a co-sanctioned event between The European Tour and the Sunshine Tour.
Coming from four behind in the final round that year, the 42 year old fired a final round of 65 which included eight birdies to hold off the Northern Irish duo of Darren Clarke and Michael Hoey and his compatriots Branden Grace and Darren Fichardt to record his 37th career victory.
“I’d just turned 40 when I won in 2009, and I’ve always felt that winning in East London put the spark back into my career,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed starting my season at the Africa Open and I hope that this year’s tournament will spark another return to form for me.
“Every golfer wants to win, and to be successful you have to win. I would love to get my 2012 season off to a fast start, and hopefully I will be on the winning side of the final putt.”
The international flavour of The European Tour will be represented at East London GC by an eclectic gathering that includes the top 20 finishers from the 2011 European Challenge Tour Order of Merit and 30 Qualifying School graduates, all hunting a fast start to their 2012 season.
But, as always, the bulk of the field will be made up by home players, the local challenge further strengthened by 2011 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner Garth Mulroy, former SA Open champion James Kingston and Open de España winner Thomas Aiken, as well as Shaun Norris, who won the inaugural Africa Open in 2008 and returned to the winner’s circle at the 2011 Nashua Masters.
Mulroy claimed his first European Tour title at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last November. The 33 year old returns to East London for the first time since a tie for 28th in 2009.
“I’m expecting a very tightly contested tournament,” he said. “The guys may have taken time off over the festive season, but you can bet your bottom dollar that come the first week of January, they will all be back in tournament mode.
“Obviously Louis and Goose are favourites, but if you look at the entry list, the field is just littered with Sunshine Tour winners looking for that first European Tour breakthrough.
“George Coetzee, Jbe’ Kruger and Jaco van Zyl did incredibly well in Europe this year, so they will want to pull off that maiden title. Warren Abery, Branden Grace and Alex Haindl will have limited starts in Europe so they will want to take advantage. They’ve all won on coastal layouts before, so they will be gunning to win.
“And don’t forget Jean Hugo and Titch Moore. Jean had a great season in South Africa and he just missed out on getting his European card. Titch had a long lay-off due to injury, so they will both be shooting from the hip at this golf course.”
+There are 12 Scots on the entry list on the European Tour website but some nearer the bottom of the pecking order in entry categories may not get into the field. The Scottish entrants are (list alphabetically):
Chris Doak, Jack Doherty, David Drysdale, Alastair Forsyth, Craig Lee, Callum Macaulay, Andrew McArthur, George Murry, Steven O'Hara, Raymond Russell, Ellliot and Lloyd Saltman.



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