Ernie shows the way

After the first round of the 2011 Ernie Els Invitational at Fancourt Golf and Hotel Estate, it is the man himself who leads the limited field of Sunshine Tour stars after a flawless eight-under par 64 on Fancourt’s Outeniqua course.

Hot on his heels are two of South Africa’s rising stars, Thomas Aiken, who is one back after a 65, and George Coetzee who shot 66. Coetzee led his Pro-Am team to an astounding 95 Alliance Stableford points, giving them a five-point advantage over the other 35 teams going into Wednesday’s final round.

Also in the hunt in the professional competition are young Josh Cunliffe and a resurgent Vaughn Groenewald who both finished on five-under 67, while the evergreen senior John Bland showed the youngsters a thing or two with an impressive 69 around what is now his home course.

The Ernie Els Invitational benefits the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation and, at this evening’s gala dinner auction, more than R2 million ($250 000) was raised for the foundation that looks after the golfing and schooling aspirations of some 30 youngsters from families of limited resources in South Africa.

After his opening round today, Ernie said, “It’s always great fun to play in this event. It’s all about ending the year among friends in a relaxed atmosphere and shooting 64 definitely adds to the fun! We really appreciate the support in raising significant funds that make a massive contribution to helping us reach our objectives with our Foundation. It is particularly special to have our former Foundation member, 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen with us here this week – he is such a great ambassador for both our Foundation and our country and it was great to be able to honour him at tonight’s function.”

As this is the first Ernie Els Invitational since Louis’ historic win at St Andrew’s in 2010, Ernie made a special presentation to Louis on behalf of the Foundation to commemorate his victory.

In accepting the award, Louis paid tribute to Ernie and the positive influence he has had on his career, both during his time at the Foundation, as well as during his professional career: “I am very grateful for the support that I received from Ernie and the Foundation and for the work that Ernie and the Foundation continues to do for golf in South Africa. I have no doubt that we will see many more champions coming out of the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation.”

The Ernie Els Invitational concludes with Wednesday’s final round on the Montagu course and there is no doubt that the field will need to work hard to outplay a relaxed and focused Els, who will be keen for more of the same from today’s opening round.

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