Johannesburg - Seven years have gone by since a South African golfer captured the elusive Hassan II Golf Trophy, but six locals are ready to fight for the prize when the tournament tees off at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat, Morocco, on Thursday.
The players are Dean Burmester, Brandon Stone, Haydn Porteous, Richard Sterne, Jaco van Zyl and Hennie Otto.
Ernie Els was the last local player to win this event in 2008 before it was sanctioned by the European Tour in 2010.
Mzansi’s players will compete against some of the world’s finest to win the title at the event, which carries a €2.5 million (R36.5 million) prize.
Last year’s tournament was captured by South Korea’s Wang Jeung-hun who beat Nacho Elvira of Spain in a play-off to card an under-par five for 283.
Besides Els, no local competitor has been on the podium.
In 2011, Van Zyl finished as runner-up with Welshman Rhys Davies in the contest, which was won by England’s David Horsey, who finished -13 for 274.
In 2010, former British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen trailed winner Davies, who posted -25 for 255.
But South Africans are poised to make a mark on the imposing course.
Mzansi will pin its hopes on Burmester to turn the fairways upside down and win the event, which is hosted by Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco. Burmester captured the Tshwane Open by carding a six-under-par 65 at Pretoria Country Club last month as he marched to a commanding three-stroke victory in the event, which was co-sanctioned by the Sunshine and the European tours.
The Free State player is enjoying the best golf of his career on the local circuit and he will be aiming to gain his second European Tour title.
Brimming with confidence
But Stone made his presence felt by winning two titles on the European stage last year.
The first was in the SA Open with a two-stroke at Ekurhuleni’s Edenvale Golf Course in January.
He repeated his conquest by lifting the Alfred Dunhill Championship silverware with an emphatic six-stroke victory at Mpumalanga’s Malelane Golf Club in November.
Sterne, Van Zyl and Otto are also brimming with confidence and believe they will make a mark in Morocco.
But it remains to be seen how the 6 846m par-72 course will drain the players as it is one of the best on the continent.