Horne looking for European jumpstart

Keith Horne is the last South African in for tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which means the Sunshine Tour players who earned their European Tour cards last December will have to wait a while longer before they can exercise their privilege.

Horne, who last won on the Sunshine Tour in 2010 when he won the Investec Royal Swazi Open, is one of nine South Africans in the field – he is joined by Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, Thomas Aiken, Hennie Otto, George Coetzee, Jaco van Zyl, James Kingston and Jbe’ Kruger.

It means Warren Abery, Darren Fichardt, Alex Haindl and Tjaart van der Walt sit out, while the other man who got his card at Final Stage Qualifying School in Spain in December, Grace, has grabbed his chance with both hands with victories in the Joburg Open and last week’s Volvo Champions.

Horne had his best year on the Sunshine Tour in 2010, adding five other top-10 finishes to his victory in Swaziland, the best of which was his share of second behind Schwartzel in the Joburg Open.

He had a quiet year domestically in 2011, with just one top 10 when he shared eighth in the Vodacom Origins of Golf event at the Wild Coast behind Fichardt, and he had a sold 13th in the South African Open Championship won by Otto.

There were signs during the tournament at the Wild Coast and at the SA Open that his game was starting to get back to 2010 levels, and he will relish the opportunity provided by the stellar field at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club: The world’s top four players are there, and a seemingly resurgent Tiger Woods joins Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer in the field.

But South African eyes will be firmly focused on Horne and his compatriots: Schwartzel showed resilience last week at Fancourt to get into contention during a week when his putter still wasn’t co-operating, and Grace has been the talk of world golf with his back-to-back titles.

Also in the field last week were Otto, who is still battling with a back problem which he will be hoping will be behind him when he starts in Abu Dhabi, and Aiken, who finished ninth in the Volvo Champions.

Like Horne, Coetzee, Van Zyl, Kingston and Kruger will want to get going again after a week’s break after the Joburg Open.

The 2007 South African Open champion Kingston did not have a successful 2011 and will need to hit the ground running in the Emirates, while Coetzee, Van Zyl and Kruger all want to build on a good year in Europe last year.

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