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12 Dec 2007 09:59
Ernie Els, still smarting after his final hole collapse at Leopard Creek last weekend, and United States Open champion Angel Cabrera, are among four Major winners in the field for the South African Airways Open beginning on Thursday at Pearl Valley Golf Estate.
The tournament brings South Africa’s 2007 Sunshine Tour to a close but, being co-sanctioned, is the sixth event of the 2008 European Tour which is already in full swing.
Els is hoping for a quick pick-me-up after blowing a two-shot lead on the final hole of the Alfred Dunhill Championship on Sunday, carding a triple-bogey eight at the 18th to hand victory to England’s John Bickerton who is also in this week’s line-up.
“I’m extremely disappointed about what happened there, but these things happen in golf and I need to get back on my horse and try and win this week,” said Els, who is chasing his fifth SA Open title.
“I’ve been hitting the ball really well in the last few week, finishing third in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, and then second at Leopard Creek.
“Hopefully I can make that little sequence into a three-two-one by winning this week.
I do feel I’m up to it.”
Besides Els and Cabrera, the other players here who have won Major titles are South African Retief Goosen and Greg Norman.
The Australian great is making a guest appearance due to his commercial tie-up with the developers of the opulent estate in the heart of the Cape winelands.
South Africa’s Trevor Immelman, the winner two Sundays back of the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the $1,2-million that goes with victory, says that while that win was a dream come true for him he still places the SA Open on a pedestal.
“I’m a keen student of the game, a true traditionalist, and the South African Open is the second oldest national open in the world after the British Open, so it’s a great event in my estimation,” he explained.
He is already a two-time winner of the SA Airways Open—scoring back-to-back victories at Erinvale in 2003 and 2004.
Tim Clark has also been a two-time champion in that time frame, while Els was the winner last year and Goosen two seasons back.
The 156-man field in this euro;1-million event is roughly divided on an equal basis between players from the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour. Three of the most prominent European Tour members here this week are Bickerton, Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke and Englishman Ross Fisher who currently tops the 2008 Order of Merit.
Frenchmen Michael Lorenzo-Vera and Francois Delamontagne, who did well to tie for ninth at Leopard Creek, are among the entries and will clearly be looking at another high finish.
Lorenzo-Vera is one of Europe’s fast-improving young professionals, and was number one on the Challenge Tour in 2007—the first Frenchman to achieve this honour. - Sapa-AFP
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