Els in the hunt at Leopard Creek

South Africans Ernie Els and Charl Schwartzel return to one of their favourite hunting grounds this week, both looking for a second victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship beginning at Leopard Creek on Thursday.

They are two of the bigger names in this €1-million event which forms part of the 2008 European Tour, and is a tournament where many of Europe’s young up-and-coming players—several of them Challenge Tour graduates—are hoping to cut their teeth.

One such player is France’s Michael Lorenzo-Vera. The 22-year-old became the first Frenchman to be crowned the Challenge Tour number one after a stunning final round at the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final saw him win both the tournament and the 2007 Challenge Tour rankings.

A brilliant 66 on the final day saw him take the top prize of €42 000 and jump from seventh to first on the rankings with season’s earnings of €128 927, setting a new Challenge Tour record.

It was Lorenzo-Vera’s first win of the 2007 season and could not have been better timed.

Now the young Biarritz professional moves up a level in golf as he goes up against players like Els, winner here two years ago, and Schwartzel who was champion three years ago and followed that up with runner-up finishes in 2005 and 2006.

Ireland’s Darren Clarke is in the line-up, along with England’s Ross Fisher who has made a promising start to the 2008 European Tour, finishing runner-up to Phil Mickelson in the season-opener, the HSBC Champions event in China.

European Tour history was made at Leopard Creek last year when Spain’s Quiros Garcia became the first player to win a European Tour event in his outing as a full member, having graduated from the 2006 qualifying school.

This time around another new class have arrived in South Africa looking to make a similar impression on the European Tour.

Qualifying school winner Martin Wiegele of Austria leads the cast along with two past winners of the event in the German pair of Marcel Siem and Sven Struver, both of whom regained their Tour cards through the six-round examination at San Roque.

The championship has a history of producing debut winners.
In the previous 13 years, eight have entered the winners circle for the first time on the European Tour—Struver (1996), Anthony Wall (2000), Adam Scott (2001), Justin Rose (2002), Mark Foster (2003), Siem (2004), Schwartzel (2005) and Quiros (2007).

Frenchmen in this week’s line-up include Marc Farry, Jean-Bapriste Gonnet, Lorenzo-Vera and Francois Delamontagne. - Sapa-AFP

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