Stars tee up in Durbs

2014-01-09 00:00

IF world rankings and past experience are anything to go by, then South Africans can be optimistic of a home win when the fourth edition of the Volvo Golf Champions begins at Durban Country Club this morning.

In Charl Schwartzel, South Africa boasts the highest ranked player in the 35-man field, and in Branden Grace [2012] and Louis Oosthuizen [2013], South Africa also have the last two champions of the tournament.

But both Schwartzel and Oosthuizen, who go into this week as the two home favourites, think the title can go to anybody.

“I think everybody is a little bit rusty, I know that I am,” said defending champion Oosthuizen. “I think by tomorrow you’ll see some of the guys really sharp. Anybody can win it. It all depends on how your week goes.”

But the 2010 British Open champion does think that the trophy will stay in local hands.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a South African wins it again,” he said. “I say that purely because of the home advantage.”

The course this year is in better condition than it was last year, largely due to the fact that in 2013 constant rain threatened to end the tournament before the third and fourth rounds were both completed on Sunday.

“The course is in a lot better shape,” commented Schwartzel. “The greens are a bit rough and you will need a bit of luck, but if there is no wind then I think we will be some really low scores.”

The weather forecast for the next four days is good, and hot, with little to no rain expected. Today is expected to be the windiest day, with a moderate north- easterly blowing in off the Indian Ocean.

Another major feature of the course is its narrow fairways, and Schwartzel confirmed that he would only use his driver “four or five” times.

“The key here is always to keep the ball in play. I use my two-iron a whole bunch of the tee, because you want to stay in play and then you can always score,” he said.

Oosthuizen agreed.

“I don’t think you’ll see a lot of guys hitting drivers this week,” he said.

On his chances of winning and the prospect of being labelled as tournament favourite due to his superior world ranking, Schwartzel was not getting carried away.

“You’re never 100% sure what to expect after a long break, but I’m feeling okay on the [driving] range,” said Schwartzel, a major winner himself thanks to his 2011 U.S. Masters triumph.

“All the guys in the field have won before. If somebody gets some sort of rhythm going then they can get up to the top. You can never predict if you will win or not.”

The trick, as all of the golfers who have spoken publicly in the build-up to the competition have reiterated, will be playing well enough for the first three days to be in a position to win on Sunday.

It would be perfect to see two South Africans teeing off in golden sunshine in the final pairing on Sunday, and if most golf enthusiasts had their way, that pairing would be Schwartzel and Oosthuizen.

“It would be great to play with Charl on Sunday,” said Oosthuizen of his long-time friend.

“We’ll be giving each other a lot of stick and a few chirps along the way, anyway.”

The winner will receive $700 000 (around R7 million) and be the first champion on 2014’s European Tour.

First round pairings and tee off times

9.50 am: Dawie van der Walt, Jin Jeong (Kor)

10 am: Darren Fichard, Simon Thornton (Ire)

10.10 am: Morten Ųrum Madsen (Den), Thomas Aiken

10.20 am: Michael Hoey (Nir), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha)

10.30 am: Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), José Maria Olazibal (Esp)

10.40 am: Colin Montgomerie (Sco), RaphaÄ—l Jacquelin (Fra)

10.50 am: Marcel Siem (Ger), Robert Karlsson (Swe)

11.00 am: Darren Clarke (Nir), Julien Quesne (Fra)

11.10 am: David Howell (Eng), Mikko Ilonen (Fin)

11.30 am: Branden Grace, David Lynn (Eng)

11.40 am: Chris Wood (Eng), Paul Casey (Eng)

11.50 am: Peter Uihlein (USA), Brett Rumford (Aus)

12 pm: Stephen Gallacher (Sco), MA Jiminez (Esp)

12.10 pm: Victor Dubuisson (Fra), Joost Luiten (Ned)

12.20 pm: Padraig Harrington (Ire), Jamie Donaldson (Wal)

12.30 pm: Gonzalo Fdez-Castano (Esp), Richard Sterne

12.40 pm: Charl Schwartzel, Matteo Manassero (Ita)

12.50 pm: Thomas Bjorn (Den), Louis Oosthuizen.

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