Spotlight on Els at SA Open

2011-11-23 21:07
Ernie Els (File)

Johannesburg - The focus will be on five-time winner Ernie Els as he aims to defend his SA Open Championship title when the 101st edition of the tournament begins in Johannesburg on Thursday.

However, the Big Easy will have to pay particular attention to the challenging course setup at the Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate.

The crowd will be hoping for a duel down the stretch like they were treated to with Els and Retief Goosen battling for the title at the Durban Country Club on the final day last year.

"Last year he [Goosen] really made a charge and gave me a bit of a fright, but thankfully I had a bit of a lead going into those final holes. I’m sure the crowd would love to see that again," said Els.

The course this year could not be less suited to the Big Easy.

Els, who has sported a shaky putter throughout this season, will need to adjust quickly to the greens.

He was quick to point out the quality of the field and the pride he and Goosen had in playing in their national open.

"We both love to play the SA Open, we almost take it like we are playing a major. We try to play as well as we can in our national open.

"We’re proud of the fact that most of the opens have been won by South Africans, so we’d like to keep that tradition going."

"Retief is chasing his third and we have a lot of young South Africans coming through the ranks."

Leon van der Vyfer, the chief executive at Serengeti, said the play around the putting surfaces would be critical.

"The winner this week will have to have a good long game, but a fantastic short game will be vital," he said.

"I really believe the player that displays the best short game and has the most action on the greens will walk away with the trophy at the end of the week."

The course, a Jack Nicklaus design, stretches over 7096 metres and in addition to making short game prowess a prerequisite, it will favour the long hitters.

"Having had a lot of interaction with Jack Nicklaus during the design of the course, his opinion was that long hitting is now part of the game," Van der Vyfer said.

"The guys, with the equipment they have today, are just very long off the tee and the defence of the course really lies in the short game department."

The course, which opened in 2009, raised a few eyebrows when it was announced as the venue for the second oldest championship in golf, but Van der Vyfer said it was in pristine condition.

It is the first time the tournament returns to Gauteng since 2000, when it was held at Rand Park Golf Club.

It is expected to attract better crowds than in previous years, despite some notable absentees from the co-sanctioned Sunshine and European Tour event.

While Goosen returns in search of SA Open No 3, fellow South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Shwartzel will team up for the World Cup of golf in China, leaving the field wide open for a lesser known player to come out tops.

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