South Africa will field a full arsenal of winners and promising youngsters when the European Tour swings through Buffalo City to contest the Â1-million Africa Open at East London Golf Club from 5-8 January 2012.
Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen and 2009 winner Retief Goosen give the host nation a one-two punch for glory and lead a strong contingent of Sunshine Tour regulars in the European and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event.
The local challenge is further strengthen by 2011 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit winner Garth Mulroy, former South African Open champion James Kingston, Spanish Open winner Thomas Aiken, as well as Shaun Norris, who won the inaugural Africa Open in 2008 and returned to the winnerÂs circle at the 2011 Nashua Masters.
Mulroy claimed his first European Tour title at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in November, just weeks after securing his 2012 PGA Tour card with a top 25 finish on the Nationwide Tour. The 33-year-old returns to East London for the first time since a tie for 28th in 2009.
ÂIÂm expecting a very tightly contested tournament,Â he said. ÂThe guys may have taken time off over the festive season, but you can bet your bottom dollar that come the first week of January, they will all be back in tournament mode.
ÂObviously Louis and Goose are favourites, but if you look at the entry list, the field is just littered with Sunshine Tour winners looking for that first European Tour breakthrough.
ÂGeorge, JbeÂ and Jaco did incredibly well in Europe this year, so they will want to pull off that maiden title. Warren, Branden and Alex will have limited starts in Europe so they will want to take advantage. TheyÂve all won on coastal layouts before, so they will be gunning to win.
ÂAnd donÂt forget Jean (Hugo) and Titch (Moore). Jean had a great season in South Africa and he just missed out on getting his European card. Titch had a long lay-off due to injury, so they will both be shooting from the hip at this golf course.Â
Hugo has won 13 times at home including three victories this season and finished sixth on the final Sunshine Tour Order of Merit. In 2000, he claimed the Challenge TourÂs Volvo Finnish Open, but is still hunting a breakthrough on the European Tour.
Moore was forced to withdraw in the second round of the Africa Open in January due to a torn tendon in his right elbow. The Port Elizabeth based player had to have surgery a week later and spent a frustrating seven months on the sidelines.
ÂI started easing back into the game five months ago, combining light practicing with physiotherapy twice a week,Â said the Walmer Country Club professional.
Moore, who will play the 2012 season on a medical exemption, is looking to a solid start in Buffalo City.
ÂMy first competitive round since the injury was during the Ernie Els Invitational at Fancourt in December. It went well and I canÂt tell you how nice it was to be among my peers again.
ÂIÂm really looking forward to teeing it up at the Africa Open. ItÂs a great track and if I can get off to a decent start, IÂll be in the thick of things come the final round.Â
Neil Schietekat, Ockie Strydom and 2011 Rookie of the Year Allan Versfeld are still hunting maiden wins. All three finished inside the top 20 in the final rankings and are making similar claims to establish themselves as contenders.
Other Sunshine Tour regulars looking to convert success in 2011 into European Tour glory include Michiel Bothma, Doug McGuigan, Adilson da Silva, James Kamte, Theunis Spangenberg, JG Claassen, Justin Walters, Chris Swanepoel, Oliver Bekker, Justin Harding and Jake Roos.
With valuable Ryder Cup points on the line, the Sunshine Tour hopefuls will face a strong European attack from a field that includes the top 10 finishers from the 2011 European Challenge Tour Order of Merit and 30 Qualifying School graduates, all hunting a fast start to their 2012 season.