With seven of the field of 69 players for this weekÂs World Golf Championship-Cadillac Championship coming from South Africa, the Sunshine Tour is front and centre of action in world golf.
Of Thomas Aiken, Tim Clark, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Louis Oosthuizen, Rory Sabbatini and Charl Schwartzel, only Sabbatini has never been a member of the Sunshine Tour, but he still flies the South African flag whenever he plays.
And coming off a win in difficult conditions last week in the Honda Classic, he adds an important dimension to the chances of the South Africans to be able to pull off victory in the event for a second year in a row.
Els took victory last year, heading off the challenge of Schwartzel, the house guest who had the temerity to nearly beat his host in a tournament that announced the depth of talent produced by the Sunshine Tour in emphatic terms.
ÂCharl got an invitation to stay with me again this year, but he didnÂt accept it,Â said Els. ÂHe and Rosalind came to stay with us for about five days before the Match Play, but when he came out after the Match Play, he stayed at the Old Palm with Louis Oosthuizen Â they have rented two homes there. They have their own little place this year.Â
Oosthuizen, of course, underlined the quality of the Sunshine Tour production line later in the year last year with his Âown little placeÂ in the history books with his Open Championship victory, and, with Schwartzel, has taken up membership on the US PGA Tour this year to try to take his game to the next level.
ÂIt was nice getting a win, especially in a WGC event, especially also here at Doral where IÂve been coming for such a long time,Â said Els. ÂDidn’t have a lot of form coming into this week last year, but something clicked over the course of a couple of days, and got my game together and really had a good week.
ÂItÂs kind of similar again. I had a bit of a slow start to the year again and I havenÂt played too much, either. I played the two in Hawaii, and then I didnÂt play another stroke-play event until last week. I was a little rusty last week, especially in those high winds. I hit a couple of awkward shots, and on the greens, I wasnÂt that sharp, either. So IÂve been working on a couple of things, so hopefully I can start turning things around now.Â
His form last year was impressive: For the week he ranked fifth in total driving and first in ball striking. Combining both accuracy and distance off the tee, Els averaged 297 yards and hit 61 percent of the fairways for the week. That solid tee game allowed him to hit 69 percent of the greens and he averaged 35 feet to the pin on all approach shots.
Last yearÂs runner-up Schwartzel is coming off a share of 14th at the Honda, where he was one of just four players under par after three rounds. He ranked fifth in putting in that tournament, and that is shaping up to be the critical factor ahead of the Cadillac starting today.
He arrived at PGA National for the Honda with five consecutive top 10s in stroke-play events, and is hoping to get that kind of form going again.
ÂLast week, I felt like I played good golf,Â he said. ÂI made a six up the last; if it had been a four, it would have been another top-10. But overall, I actually played really good golf again, and it feels good. This golf course, I have good memories and I see the wind is blowing again. If IÂm playing well, I like it when the wind blows.Â
So will Schwartzel go one better this year Â or will it be the turn of one of the other South Africans?