Johannesburg - Will South Africa’s golf darling Charl Schwartzel continue his dominance of the Alfred Dunhill Championship?
This will be put to the test when the co-sanctioned Sunshine-European tour event tees off at Leopard Creek Country Club in Malelane, Mpumalanga, on Thursday.
Schwartzel has set the pace by becoming the country’s only golfer so far to win this tournament three times since its inception in 2003 (see box). He will be vying for a fifth trophy.
The 32-year-old player from Vereeniging, who competes on the PGA and European tours, won last year’s showdown at Malelane by carding 15 under-par 273.
Schwartzel shot a final-day two-under in Malelane to win by four shots against France’s Grégory Bourdy in a gripping encounter.
To prove that the championship really belongs to Schwartzel, he knows the course like the palm of his hand, having carded a record 24-under par 264 in 2012, when he beat Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg by 12 strokes.
This was the biggest margin of victory to date in the tournament's history.
Schwartzel will be determined to stretch his winning streak on the European Tour by lifting yet another trophy at Leopard Creek this year.
In February, he put a remarkable showing on the European Tour by snatching the Tshwane Open title with an eight-stroke victory at the Pretoria Country Club.
This was his second victory on the European circuit this year.
The following month, March, saw Schwartzel cap his golfing accomplishment by lifting the Valspar Tournament on the more demanding PGA Tour at Innisbrook Golf Resort at Palm Harbor, Florida.
The 2011 US Masters champion beat American Bill Haas in a play-off to win his first title in the US this year.
The lucrative Alfred Dunhill showdown, which will see the addition of 15 spots each in the starting line-up being made available to players from both the Asian and Australasian PGA tours, has been won by more South Africans – as the last five editions can attest.
As usual, competition at Leopard Creek will be intense, with players fighting it out to settle for low scores.
South Africa’s Branden Grace, who won two years ago, will be out to prove dominance on the fairways.
He will be up against stiff opposition from the likes of Pablo Martin (Spain), John Bickerton (England) and Broberg.