Golf’s elite in Durban

2014-01-08 00:00

THIRTY-FIVE of golf’s biggest names have descended on Durban Country Club where they are putting in their final preparations for the European Tour’s opening event in 2014 — the Volvo Golf Champions, which gets under way tomorrow.

The tournament, which offers a whopping $4 million (R42,5 million) in prize money ($700 000 to the winner), is exclusive in that it is only open to those who won European Tour events in 2012 and those who have won more than 10 European Tour events over their careers. South Africa’s Branden Grace is the only exception and he lines up this week by virtue of being a past champion (2012) — the only other way a player can be a part of the competition.

There are no fewer than seven South Africans in the field this year following the late withdrawal of Ernie Els, with Grace, Darren Fichardt, Louis Oosthuizen, Thomas Aiken, Charl Schwartzel, Richard Sterne and Dawie van der Walt left flying the local flag.

The quality of the field is unquestionable, with names such as Thomas Bjorn (Denmark), Paul Casey, Jamie Donaldson (Wales), Colin Montgomerie (Scotland), Darren Clarke (England), Padraig Harrington (Ireland) and José Maria Olazabal (Spain) standing out.

Bjorn — winner of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City last month — was in high spirits at DCC yesterday, and has tipped the South African pairing of Schwartzel and Oosthuizen to be this week’s major threat.

“Charl is the best player in the field this week and he is world class, and Louis probably has the best swing in world golf right now,” Bjorn told reporters. “They have always been difficult to play against and the SA boys always know what they are capable of.”

Schwartzel is ranked 18th in the world at the moment — higher than anyone else in the field. But Bjorn, playing some of the best golf of his life towards the end of last year at the age of 42, has not written off his own chances, saying that he believes the DCC course will suit his game. “It is a good golf course and a nice place to come. It is not the longest course in the world, which suits me,” he said.

“You look to stay out of the bushes and try to get around in decent numbers, and then hopefully come Sunday you are in a position where you can do something. I go into this tournament with a lot of belief that I can compete with the best in the world again.”

Grace was equally optimistic about the chances of a South African winning this week.

“All the South African guys were steady last year,” he said. “We all know what it takes to win and it can go anybody’s way.”

Grace added that the Durban heat would likely have a part to play over the next four days.

“It can get tough out there and it is important to stay hydrated,” he said. “But on a course like this, if you get it right you can really shoot some low numbers.”

Gates at DCC open at 8 am tomorrow and the first pairing is expected to tee off at around 9.40 am.

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