Cape Town - South African golfing legend Ernie Els says reigning FedEx Cup winner Rory McIlroy will be the player to beat when the SA Open tees off at the Glendower Golf Club on Thursday.
McIlroy made good on his promise to Els when he confirmed that he will be playing at the 2017 SA Open Championship, which is hosted by Els and his foundation, Els for Autism.
The Northern Irishman spent a few weeks in South Africa soon after he turned professional back in 2008, during which time he played in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek and finished in a share of third spot with Els at the SA Open which was played at Pearl Valley near Cape Town that year.
McIlroy is currently ranked at No 2 in the world and will take on defending SA Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship winner Brandon Stone.
"Rory is by far the class player in the field when you look at the world rankings," Els told the IOL website.
"He's the guy everyone will be looking up at to beat. There's so much excitement among everyone that he's here."
This year's tournament will be without the country's three leading golfers - namely Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen - who've all decided to skip the event.
However the SA Open field consists of five major champions, including McIlory, Els, Nick Faldo, Retief Goosen and Darren Clarke.
Other notably golfers teeing off on Thursday are 2015 SA Open winner Andy Sullivan, 2013 SA Open winner Morten Orum Madsen, Hennie Otto, George Coetzee, Richard Sterne and Jaco van Zyl.