Just over a year ago, Ryan Cairns took his maiden Sunshine Tour victory in the Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Simola Golf and Country Estate and he returns to defend that title as the series begins its 10th year.
Cairns, 29, had come off a victory on the Sunshine Big Easy Tour presented by Stonehage after he had lost full status on the Sunshine Tour, but his victory over the 6,401-metre Jack Nicklaus design in a play-off against Vaughn Groenewald saw him get into a position to play in tournaments regularly again.
That he does so as a defending champion in a series that has become part of the South African golf landscape shows just how important that series has become to the players and the game.
He lines up in good shape this year, instead of as an outsider: Since mid-April, he has had a share of seventh in the Golden Pilsener Zimbabwe Open, of 21st in the Investec Royal Swazi Open and of fourth in the Zambia Sugar Open.
While he was only 46th in last week’s Lombard Insurance Classic, a return to the scene of his brilliant final round last year during which he carded a course-record equalling 10-under-par 62 will bring back good memories.
He’s currently 45th on the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, and has recently passed up a chance to try and qualify for the US Open, preferring instead to hone his game in Southern Africa ahead of a trip to America later in the year in an attempt to get onto the US circuits through the qualifying school there.
He will be up against Groenewald again this year, who finds himself in 26th on the Order of Merit after top-10 finishes in the lucrative Tshwane Open and in the Telkom PGA Championship.
The highest-placed player on the Order of Merit in the Simola event is Desvonde Botes: The veteran is 12th after five to-10s in a good start to the year, and that kind of consistency could see him in contention yet again.
They will be joined in the 72-man field by 10 players from the pre-qualifier, which was headed by Clifford Howes and Ryan Thompson who carded three-under-par 69.
The tournament gets underway on Wednesday.