Els to fight off pretenders
Johannesburg - Ernie Els is the big name at the Alfred Dunhill Championship which gets under way at the 6 631m Leopard Creek Golf Course on Thursday, but his reputation will only be an incentive for the Sunshine Tour’s young guns to bring him down.
With the likes of Charl Schwartzel and Thomas Aiken having come close to wins this year (although Schwartzel already has two European Tour wins to his name), and with three three-time winners on the 2009 Sunshine Tour in the field, Els can hardly be expecting a walk in the park.
Jaco van Zyl, Darren Fichardt and Brandon Pieters have each won three times, and all are capable of a week’s worth of play that could win any tournament.
In addition, Dane Anders Hansen has a commanding lead at the top of the Order of Merit over Van Zyl as he returns to South Africa for this event and the South African Open to fulfil his five-tournament quota to maintain his eligibility for the race.
Hansen has maintained his position in the world’s top 50 through much of the year, and he won the Omega European Masters in September against the likes of Rory McIlroy and Schwartzel.
David Drysdale is the other European player in the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit top 10, and the Scot had a second place in the Open de Andalucia de Golf 09 in Spain in March as well as third in the Joburg Open in January and in the Madrid Masters in October.
The players missing from the top 10 of the Order of Merit are Retief Goosen and Canadian Graham DeLaet.
Goosen is not playing in the December Sunshine Tour events, and DeLaet has just earned his US PGA Tour card at the Q-School.
The tournament also sees the return to South Africa of Tyrone van Aswegen after his unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the US PGA Tour. He did, however, have a couple of good finishes on the Nationwide Tour, the better of the two being his share of third at the Soboda Classic in October. He’s currently seventh on the Order of Merit.
The 10th-placed player on the Order of Merit is Titch Moore, who has not won this year, but has been close, agonisingly so at the Platiunum Classic when he double bogeyed the 16th and let Fichardt in for his third win of the year.
Moore has 10 top 10 finishes this year, and, with two second places (in the Zambia Open and the Platinum Classic), he will be keen to add an eighth title to his resume.
And, of course, defending champion Richard Sterne could just find his A game again and blow the field away.