Major winners hunt repeat success at Africa Open

Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen and Retief Goosen can expect a warm welcome when they return to Buffalo City to compete in the Africa Open from 5-8 January 2012 at the East London Golf Club.

Two-time US Open winner Goosen and 2010 Open champion Oosthuizen head a world-class field to compete in the fifth edition of the €1-million tournament, co-sanctioned by the Sunshine and European Tours.

Oosthuizen, who splits his playing schedule between the European and PGA Tours, had a flying start to the year when he holed out from eight foot at the first extra hole in a play-off against England’s Chris Wood and Manual Quiros of Spain to lift the Africa Open title in January.

After some quiet months following that victory, his form picked up in October when he finished fifth at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, fourth at the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic and third at the Iskandor Johor Open.

Ranked 38th in the world after two more solid top 10 finishes in November, the 29-year-old Oosthuizen is confident of mounting a strong challenge in his title defence.

“Nothing beats playing and performing at home and I really enjoyed wining at home at the start of the season with all my family there and against a very strong field,” he said. “I’m going back to East London with some very positive memories and I’ll put everything into my title defence. Hopefully I can finish the job in regulation play this time.”

Oosthuizen said that he enjoyed the risk and reward element of the East London Golf Club layout.

“It’s the kind of golf course that really challenges your game when the wind is up, but it also offers great opportunities for low scoring when you can keep it in play,” he said. “I struggled with the putter all the way, but I was rewarded for great tee shots and solid iron play.”

“When the wind is up the course demands a lot of shot-making, which I like. Sometimes you are just battling to survive but then you hit a great approach and you are rewarded with a great birdie or even an eagle. Hopefully the wind will blow because I think that’s the way the golf course is meant to be played.”

While Oosthuizen tends to show great form in stretches, 2009 African Open winner Goosen is widely recognised as an extremely consistent performer with good ball striking and putting as his greatest strengths.

When the world number 53 gets his putter working, as he did in the final round of the Africa Open in 2009, he is pretty much unstoppable.

Coming from four behind, the 42-year-old fired a final round seven-under-par 65 that included eight birdies to hold off Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke and Michael Hoey and compatriots Branden Grace and Darren Fichardt for his 37th career victory.

“But for that three-putt at the final hole, my putting was virtually faultless that day,” said Goosen. “I just turned 40 when I won and I’ve always felt that winning in East London put the spark back into my career.”

In the last 12 months, Goosen has slipped out of the top 50 in the world golf rankings due to a succession of injuries that limited his playing opportunities, but a recent resurgence to form suggests that the Major winner will soon be back to his winning ways.

“I’ve always enjoyed starting my season at the Africa Open,” he said. “I had that great result in 2009 and I was pretty devastated when I missed the cut in January. Now that the injuries are a thing of the past, I hope the Africa Open will spark another return to form for me.”

“Every golfer wants to win, and to be successful you have to win. I would love to get my 2012 season off to a fast start and hopefully I will be on the winning side of the final putt.”

Oosthuizen and Goosen can expect a strong local and international challenge when they vie for repeat success in the New Year.

The Africa Open’s position at the start of the season not only makes it a sought-after event as local professionals seek the opportunity to earn membership of the European Tour, but also offers a tremendous incentive to South African and European Tour players hoping to make an early impact on the 2012 Race to Dubai and Sunshine Tour Order of Merit rankings. This year’s event will also be key for the European Tour pros looking to strengthen their position in the 2012 Ryder Cup points race.

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