Two-time Alfred Dunhill Championship winner Pablo Martin tees off at around noon on the opening day of the Â1-million tournament and heÂs not one of the favourites despite his dominance of the event over the last two years.
Since his bravura performance in capturing the Leopard Creek jewel in the Sunshine Tour crown for the second time last year by two strokes from Thorbjorn Oleson, eventual Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Anthony Michael, heÂs had something of a struggle on the European Tour.
Just two top 10s from a young player who made European Tour history by becoming the first amateur to win a European Tour event when he captured the 2007 Estoril Open de Portugal was not a fair reflection of a prodigious talent.
Perhaps the slump Â 12 missed cuts during 2011 Â can be attributed to tinkering going on with his swing. ÂThis is the third time that I have made changes in my swing,Â he said. ÂI am just trying to do something that I did in the past Â something that I did five years ago when I was playing my best from tee to green.Â
And his search for consistency reflects some of the agony of the game for many top professionals as they strive to climb the ladder of success: ÂA lot of people say, ÂYou have won a few times,Â and itÂs nice to win, but itÂs a bit like winning the lottery and IÂm looking for consistency,Â he said.
But if anyone was going to don the Spanish mantle that Seve Ballesteros wore so spectacularly Â and it just never fitted Sergio Garcia properly Â it was Martin with his flair. More than flair, too, he relished the thrill of the duel.
At Leopard Creek, Martin has found the arena where he feels most at home. ÂItÂs definitely in the top three courses that we play all year on the European Tour, if not the best,Â he said.
The course gives him a chance to have fun Â after all, golf is a game. ÂThere are so many shots out there that are really just good fun,Â he said.
ÂIÂm afraid we donÂt see that many golf courses like this today. We tend to play some very boring courses. We just play longer and longer courses. You play these American-style courses where every hole is the same and you feel like youÂve played that hole a thousand different times on a thousand different golf courses. This course is the exception. ItÂs fun. There are a lot of shots where thereÂs drama. Everybody likes drama.Â
And itÂs drama of the kind he produced in his 2009 victory the fans will be hoping for. In the third round, he made a memorable par from the bridge on the 18th on his way to the lead.
He hit a four wood for his second into the treacherous par-five 18th green Â which is surrounded by water Â and was lucky for it to finish on the bridge. He was able to chip from the cart path and went on to make a solid par.
He relishes that kind of challenge when he plays. ÂIf I had to play this course for the rest of my life Â and I donÂt say this just because I have won here twice Â I wouldnÂt mind,Â he said.
If his swing plays ball, Martin will have a say in this yearÂs tournament.