Charl favourite at Joburg Open
Johannesburg - South African Charl Schwartzel returns to a happy hunting ground this week as favourite to retain the 1.3-million-euro Joburg Open trophy.
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The swarthy, medium-height 26-year-old from the town of Vereeniging south of Johannesburg finished joint second, fourth and joint second in the other three tournaments on the South African leg of the Road to Dubai circuit.
Had he managed to shave just one stroke off each round he would have won the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek and the Africa Open at East London Golf Club and finished third in the South African Open at Durban Country Club.
His highest score in 12 sub-par rounds over the three courses was 70 and he is not complaining that persistent heavy rain has turned the par-71, 6940-metre Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club into a very wet layout.
Almost daily soakings for several weeks mean the east and west courses -- competitors will play a round on each before using the west for the last 36 holes -- have little fairway run and soft greens ahead of the Thursday start.
"I am confident going into this tournament because I have been playing well and a soft course suits me. I have always played well at Royal Johannesburg," Schwartzel told the South African media.
He began his Joburg Open challenge last year in similar wet conditions with an eight-under 63 followed by rounds of 68, 64 and 66 to end six strokes clear of fellow South African Keith Horne and Darren Clarke from Northern Ireland.
"My performance at the Joburg Open last year was probably the best golf I have played. You do not make only three bogeys in a tournament over those two courses without playing well."
Schwartzel has pocketed 168,800 euros from the first three European Tour events and will climb above leading earner and compatriot Louis Oosthuizen if he tops the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon.
Clarke, a vice-captain of the victorious 2010 Europe Ryder Cup team, came to South Africa this month hoping to kick-start a campaign aimed at getting him into the top 50 on the world rankings.
But a second-round 75 amid 40-kilometre-an-hour winds the Irishman usually revels in dashed his Africa Open hopes and he finished eight shots behind winner and reigning British Open champion Oosthuizen.
So instead of climbing from 100 in the world, the popular 48-year-old with a fondness for Cuban cigars, slipped eight places, leaving Schwartzel (32) and Englishman Danny Willett (74) as the only top-100 golfers in the field.
Willett will be making his first appearance in South Africa this season and three sub-70 rounds at Royal Johannesburg last year enabled him to finish joint third.
Former European Tour winners Ross McGowan of England, Swede Michael Jonzon, Anthony Kang from the United States and South African James Kingston are among the 210 entrants.