All 35 professionals in the field for this weekÂs Volvo Golf Champions were given an added incentive to get a fast start to this true Âtournament of championsÂ when they shared the stage with a cheetah at The Links at Fancourt on Tuesday.
The professionals gathered have a combined 392 wins on the European Tour, and are competing for approximately R20 million in total prize money this week as South Africa hosts a full European Tour event.
Reigning Masters champion Charl Schwartzel leads a line-up of eight South Africans who qualified for this prestigious world class event, including Major winners Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and Retief Goosen, as well as European Tour winners Thomas Aiken, Hennie Otto, Garth Mulroy and local favourite Branden Grace.
The international field features Open Champion Darren Clarke, Thomas Björn, Simon Dyson, Tom Lewis, Pádraig Harrington, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, José María Olazábal and Colin Montgomerie, among others, as well as the youngest qualifier, 18-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero.
While there may be a strong foreign contingent, they face stiff competition from on-form South Africans. The most apparent these local players is Branden Grace, fresh off his win at the Joburg Open a week ago.
Grace won the Gary Player Trophy for the best stroke average in 2011 – 69.4 blows per round – and his consistency makes him a man to watch this week.
Louis Oosthuizen is anticipating the birth of his second child and a win would be the perfect icing to that cake. His successful title defence at the Africa Open a fortnight ago involved a 35-footer at the 17th to secure the lead, indicating that the 2010 Open Champion had found his groove with the flat-stick, which plagued him throughout 2011.
With 2011 Open Champion Darren Clarke in the field there should be a good showdown between the past two recipients of the Claret Jug.