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10 Dec 2009 10:42
A tournament where he is a past champion and a golf course where he has a home overlooking the Kruger National Park makes for a pretty decent way for Ernie Els to get into the right groove for the 2010 season.
Els tees off in Thursday’s first round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek as the main drawcard in a tournament co-sanctioned by the European Tour and Sunshine Tour.
As much as a victory would please him, and maintain his record of having won at least once in a calendar year every year since 1991, Els has spoken of his desire to use this tournament as an opportunity to fine-tune his game for 2010, and more especially before the new groove rule for irons is applied to all professional tournaments on January 1.
Under the new rule, the size and shape of grooves has been reduced to counter the dramatic spin that players have been able to
generate out of the rough, and place a greater premium on hitting the fairway.
“That’s exactly why I’m here. I didn’t play too much golf in South Africa this year, but I just love this place and it’s perfect
to work on this aspect of the game,” Els said.
“There’s a lot of new stuff to work on for next year.
This will be the first tournament I’m playing with new grooves on my sand irons and irons, so this will be a good learning curve as to where I’m at with the new equipment.
“But the iron blade is exactly the same, so it shouldn’t be a big change.
Els has a history of using the Alfred Dunhill Championship to make certain adjustments to his game. In 2005, he made this tournament his first one back after a five-month layoff due to ACL knee surgery, and he won it.
Defending champion Richard Sterne returns with equally fond memories. His victory here last year sparked an amazing run in which he also won the South African Open a week later and clinched the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit title.
“What happened last year was quite special for me. But this is a new start to the season, and hopefully it will be a good season.
“I want to get more consistent. So hopefully the memories of the good shots I hit and putts I made here last year will lift me again this week.”
But Sterne isn’t too focused on the issue surrounding the new grooves.
“I haven’t really hit the new grooves. A lot of players have said that from the fairway they’re much the same, but from the rough it’s quite different.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s a necessary change but they’ve done it so we have to abide by it.”
This event tees off the 2010 Race to Dubai, and it marks the first opportunity for South Africa’s James Kamte, Anton Haig and George Coetzee to put their new European Tour cards to use.
All three made it through the recent final qualifying stage of the Tour School in Spain and earned their playing privileges for the new season.
“I’m very relieved and looking forward to it,” said Kamte. “Now I just want to go out there this week, relax, and play my best golf.”—Sapa
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