Malelane - Charl Schwartzel is not one to blow his own trumpet, but he acknowledges that he really is the man to beat when the Alfred Dunhill Championship, co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and The European Tour, tees off at Leopard Creek on Thursday.
He has won the tournament four times already, and, should he win again, he will join a very exclusive club of players who have won the same European Tour event on five or more occasions, joining the group consisting of Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer.
To show how well he knows the course, he arrived at the pre-tournament pro-am and fired a nine-under-par 63 right off the bat.
“It was two days early,” he laughed, “But I just pitched up and the course is just there, right in front of me. I can see the shots every time I come back. It just suits me well.”
And having scaled back on his annual playing schedule in 2016, he feels he comes into this week’s tournament in particularly good shape – at a course he loves.
“I’m sure that makes me a dangerous player,” he said. “There’s a lot going for me around here, and I’ve had some good time off. I’ve played just enough to be tournament-ready and not over-played. So I’m in a good position going into this week.”
It’s not that he will have things all his own way: Branden Grace, who got married last week, is in a great frame of mind and he also loves coming back to Leopard Creek where he won in 2014 after an opening round of 10-under 62.
“It’s always nice to come back as a past champion at this place,” he said “You know, it’s just one of those places too, whether you’ve won here or not, it is just such a nice place to come back to.”
SA Open champion Brandon Stone has also found form, finishing in second place in last week’s Lion of Africa Cape Town Open.
“I think last week’s result was quite good,” he said. “My game feels good; game felt good the last few months; obviously didn’t score too well in the Race to Dubai. I found some form last week; played nicely the last few days. I always enjoy coming here to Leopard Creek; it’s always a great week. It suits a ball-striker’s game so I’m looking forward to it.”
Schwartzel is 122-under-par for the Alfred Dunhill Championship in his career. That’s 77 strokes better than the next-best man...