Golf stars tee off at Leopard Creek

2008-12-10 00:00

MALELANE (Mpumalanga) — The Alfred Dunhill Championship tees off today at Leopard Creek in a key week for players from both the European Tour and Sunshine Tour.

Young Irish star Rory McIlroy makes his first appearance in a tournament that will have a bearing on his ability to stay in the top 50 on the world rankings before the end of 2008.

McIlroy is ranked 49th in the world and needs to remain in the top 50 in order to secure himself a place in all four Majors next year and the World Golf Championship events.

“My goal is to just to try and go higher and higher on the world rankings. Hopefully I can stay in the top 50 by the end of the year to get into the Masters and the others. That’ll be a great opportunity for me,” McIlroy said yesterday.

The Irishman will tee off today in confident mood at the end of a year in which he’s had seven top-tens on the European Tour, including two runners-up finishes.

McIlroy faces a field including world number 10 Lee Westwood, USPGA tour player Rory Sabbatini, Sunshine Tour Order of Merit leader Richard Sterne and his nearest challenger, Garth Mulroy.

Sabbatini has his own goals this week in terms of getting off to a fast start on the European Tour’s new Race to Dubai.

“I’ve joined the European Tour now and the Race to Dubai is a nice little bonus. I’m going to give it my best run and see what happens,” he said.

Sabbatini is also making his first appearance at Leopard Creek, and believes this a golf course where keeping to the basics is essential.

“I enjoy the course. Everything is out there in front of you and it should be a fun week. I’m hitting good putts — it’s just a matter of them going in the hole. I’m driving the ball well and feel like I’m hitting my irons really well. This is a very simple and straightforward golf course. If you do the basics right it should be fine.”

Sabbatini was given his first look at the spectacular course on Tuesday in the official pro-am, and judging by his score he enjoyed it, posting a comfortable two-under-par 70 in sweltering heat.

James Kingston arrives on the back of a memorable debut in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City last week, and also served notice of his desire to claim a second European Tour victory with a 68 in the pro-am.

Charl Schwartzel is also back in an environment he enjoys. Schwartzel claimed his maiden European Tour victory in this tournament in 2004, and has finished second twice.

“I’ve had good success here in the past and I love coming back to Leopard Creek,” he said.

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