South African Charl Schwartzel, 2011 Masters champion, is determined to join a formidable list of fellow countrymen to hold up the SA Open trophy – the second-oldest in the world – this week.
Schwartzel hopes to add his name to those of previous winners Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman and Retief Goosen, when the tournament kicks off on Thursday at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate in Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg.
"The South African Open is definitely one of the events I want to win in my career. When you look at the players who have won the Championship in the past, it would be an honour and a privilege to see my name alongside theirs on the trophy," said the 28-year-old.
"South Africans have obviously got a great record in the event, so hopefully this year it can be my turn to give the home crowds something to cheer about."
After a rather disappointing year, his prospects have been on the rise recently after he beat world number one and two Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland and American Tiger Woods in play-offs at the World Golf Final in Turkey last month.
This week the Gauteng-province native will just need to drive a few kilometers from his home to compete in the 102nd edition of the world's second-oldest tournament after the R&A Open Championship.
But it's not a done deal yet, with the likes of former world number one Martin Kaymer, who sank the ball that kept the Ryder Cup in Europe this year, also competing. And Kaymer has been trying out the course ahead of the tee-off.
"You really have to place the ball in certain areas in order to have a good chance to make birdie. But the rough is also very thick, so you have to keep it on the fairway," he said.
Outside of playing the German was amazed at his South African fan base.
"A lot of people have been shaking my hand and welcoming me to South Africa. I'm surprised because that doesn't happen very often to me," he said.
Defending champion Hennie Otto, also from the area, won the title last year on the 780-hectare estate, which sports a 27-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus.
"It hasn’t been a good year, what with my back injury, but hopefully I can find something special," said the 36-year-old.
"My putting during the tournament last year was tremendous, which is important there because the greens are tricky."
Countryman Brendan Grace (24) this year became the first player in the European Tour, which co-sanctions the South African Sunshine Tour event, to win his first four European Tour titles in one season.
Others to look out for include Henrik Stenson, the Swede with six European Tour titles, and former winners Richard Sterne and Martin Kingston. – Sapa-AFP