The European Tour remains in South Africa this week for the Africa Open at the East London Golf Club in the Eastern Cape. It’s an event co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour and the players will do battle for a prize fund of over €1,000,000.
With many of the European Tour’s top players in Florida this week for the WGC-Cadillac Championship, this event (much like the Puerto Rico Open) provides a great opportunity for a lesser-known player to make a breakthrough.
There’s a fine blend of international and home players on the start sheet and 2016 European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke will be among the star attractions. He’s set to tee it up for a second week running in South Africa. The Northern Irishman has been struggling for form of late, and is hoping this stint in South Africa will act as a springboard for his season. “I’m really looking forward to a return to East London and hopefully I will give the crowds something to cheer about,” he said.
Four things to watch for at the Africa Open this week:
1. Andy Sullivan of England comes into this event brimming with confidence after his victory in the Joburg Open last week. He’ll be looking to make it a hat-trick of South African victories in 2015, as he also triumphed in the 104th South African Open Championship in January.
“I am playing very well at the moment and it would be great to get another win under the belt early in the season to boost my Race to Dubai and world rankings,” Sullivan said.
2. The other form players. Look out for another strong performance this week from England’s David Howell. He climbed as high as ninth on the Official World Golf Ranking back in 2006, but his form slumped and he dropped outside the top-500. He’s fought back now to 140th and he was tied second last week in Joburg. Another man looking good for this week is Jaco Van Zyl. The South African has a great record in this event: his last four results have been 4th, 4th, tied 2nd and tied 5th. He was also tied 2nd last week in Joburg.
3. The home nation has dominated this event since it became a fixture on the European Tour back in 2010. Charl Schwartzel was champion in 2010 then Louis Oosthuizen took back-to-back victories in 2011 and 2012. Darren Fichardt claimed the title in 2013, and last season it was Thomas Aiken who came out on top after a playoff against England’s Oliver Fisher. Richard Sterne, the aforementioned Jaco van Zyl and George Coetzee will be amongst the favoured South African players this week.
4. The course. Designed by Colonel SV Hotchkin, the course at East London dates from 1893. It’s a historic and traditional layout winding through sand hills and coastal bush land. It’s not particularly long by modern standards – just 6,616 yards – but the layout blends both links and parkland playing characteristics. It’s an excellent test of skill and one that generally discovers a quality winner.