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11 Dec 2007 13:42
The South African Airways (SAA) Open, formerly the South African Open, which tees off at the Pearl Valley Golf Estates in Paarl on Thursday, has attracted the strongest field in the history of the championship.
The Open, the second oldest national championship in golf behind the British Open, will include Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Retief Goosen, Tim Clark, US Open champion Angel Cabrera, veteran Greg Norman and Darren Clarke.
Defending champion Els will be hoping to get his first victory on home soil this year after disappointing finishes—by his standards—in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the Dunhill Championship.
In particular, Els will be aggrieved by his disastrous finish at Leopard Creek last week.
The Big Easy had a two-stroke lead going into the final par-five 18th, but somehow managed to find the water twice and ended with a triple bogey.
Els is said to have been gutted by the loss but is determined to get a win on home soil as part of his three-year goal of attaining the world number-one ranking.
Immelman, surprise winner at Sun City a fortnight ago, still rates his two Open wins as very special. He won back-to-back open titles in 2003 and 2004 to make him the first golfer since Gary Player (1966/67 ) and the seventh in the history of the championship to defend his title.
The two other South Africans in contention will be two-time winners Goosen (1995, 2006) and Clark (2002, 2005). Goosen has had a sub-standard year with only one top-ten finish on the PGA Tour, culminating in his last place finish at the Nedbank Challenge.
In contrast, Clark describes his season as being one of his best years on tour considering the number of tournaments he has played. The diminutive golfer played 19 tournaments and finished second in three of them. He had six top-tens and earned over $2,6-million in prize money.
Clark missed last year’s Open due to a neck injury and after a few weeks off recently says he is relishing a return to competitive golf.
The other South African in with a shout is young Charl Schwartzel. The three-time Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner is playing some solid golf and did not disappoint at the Nedbank Challenge where he finished a respectable ninth.—Sapa
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