Cape Town - The 2008 South African Open which gets under way at Pearl Valley, near Franschoek, on Thursday, will boast its strongest ever field as three Major champions and four Ryder Cup players are among those vying for a share of the one million euro prize purse.
Ernie Els, a three-time Major winner, Retief Goosen, a two-time Major winner, and Trevor Immelman, the reigning Masters champion will headline the field along with Ryder Cuppers Henrik Stenson (Sweden), Justin Rose, Lee Westwood (both England) and Darren Clarke (Northern Ireland).
A total of 35 countries will be represented at this year's championship which has drawn entries from as far afield as Iceland, with Birgir Hafthorsson joining the field for the second consecutive year.
There will also be several golfers hoping to celebrate their new European Tour status with a strong showing at Pearl Valley Golf Estates.
These include South Africa's Branden Grace and Zimbabwean Marc Cayeux, who both secured their playing privileges on the 2009 European Tour at the recent qualifying school finals in Spain, as well as Scotland's Andrew Coltart, who finds himself back on the Tour after several years.
By Wednesday almost all of the players had arrived and the 'Big Easy' Els, who has already won the SA Open title four times, was out on the range hitting balls after flying in from the US over the weekend.
Els will be going out in search of a fifth title when the world's second oldest open starts on Thursday. "I won my fourth South African Open title at Humewood a couple of years ago and would love to win a fifth title here (at Pearl Valley)," said Els.
"It would sure be nice to round-off my golfing year on a high note. We'll soon see."
The organizers have billed this year's version of the SA Open as a "celebration of golf" and have secured the services of Ivor Robson, the official starter of The Open Championship since 1975. He will bring the most recognisable voice in golf to the first tee of the South African Open for the very first time.
A very welcome new addition to the SA Open will be Durban-born Rory Sabbatini, a world top tenner last year. The popular Sabbatini, a four times US PGA Tour winner, has in the past always given the country's national open event a miss.
David Spencer, CEO-Golf of Leisurecorp, the owners of Pearl Valley said: "Free entry, one of the greatest fields ever seen in the southern hemisphere, and the strongest possible South African challenge means that we are expecting a record crowd.
"Els, Goosen, Rose, Westwood, all the big guns are here and when you throw Sabbatini into the mix, who has incredibly never played in the South African Open before, you have the recipe for a thrilling four days of golf.
"We are also extremely honoured to have Ivor Robson as the official starter of the South African Open for the very first time. Ivor has made the phrase 'On the tee' his own since becoming The European Tour's official starter in 1975 and is the voice of golf; it's a real privilege to have him here.