Oosthuizen eyes fast start at season opener

Louis Oosthuizen reads a putt during Round 2 of the British Open.

Louis Oosthuizen reads a putt during Round 2 of the British Open.

Alfred Dunhill Championship

Dec. 9-12

Course: Leopard Creek Golf Club (7,249 yards, par 72), Malelane, South Africa.

Purse: $1.33 million. Winner's share: $210,980.

Last year: Spain's Pablo Martin held off South Africa's Charl Schwartzel by a stroke, shooting 68-63-71-69 to finish at 17 under.

Louis Oosthuizen has a nice problem: He played the best golf of his life last year and doesn’t know how he did it.

Oosthuizen begins his 2011 campaign this week in his homeland, where he will tee it up in the €1 million Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek Golf Club in Malelane, South Africa. He is one of the headline acts in the first event of the 2011 European Tour, which technically gets underway in the current calendar year.

FIVE TO WATCH

Louis Oosthuizen: How does the South African follow up a year that saw him win the biggest tournament in golf? We’ll get an idea this week.

Charles Schwartzel: The outright favorite. Won in 2005 and runner-up last year. Should be in the mix this week.

Richard Sterne: The diminutive South African has been at home for all of this year nursing a bad back. This week begins his road to recovery.

Gary Evans: Making something of a comeback after four years out of the game. The Englishman played the Euro Tour between 1992-2004 before struggling and eventually quitting.

Pablo Martin: Defending champion got his mojo back here last year when he got his first professional victory. Can the former top U.S. college player repeat?

Not many blinked when the South African won the Andalucia Open last year. After all, he had already contended in Morocco, finishing second to Rhys Davies. Plus, he was a good player due a win.

However, when Oosthuizen won the Open Championship at St. Andrews, suddenly everyone sat up and took notice. The entire golfing world wanted to know who he was and how he did it.

Trouble is, Oosthuizen still has no idea how he managed to outgun the world’s best over golf’s most famous course.

“I can’t put my finger on one thing and say I did that better that week,” Oosthuizen said. “I just played steadily, my long putting was good and no one really pushed me, but I can’t say one aspect of my game was fantastic.”

So it goes for Oosthuizen’s entire year. Take a look at his statistics from 2010 and 2009 and nothing really jumps out. It’s a baffling scenario for the man himself.

“The weirdest thing is that nothing in my game really changed from last year to this year,” he said. “It’s strange.”

The world No. 24 is one of only two players in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking in the field. Charles Schwartzel, No. 39, is the other.

Schwartzel might be a better bet to carry off the €166,660 first-place prize. The five-time European Tour winner won the 2005 Alfred Dunhill Championship and came close last year, finishing a stroke behind winner Pablo Martin.

The Spaniard is hoping to become the first player to win consecutive Alfred Dunhill Championships.

Four other former champions are hoping to win the title a second time: 2009 champion Richard Sterne of South Africa, Englishmen John Bickerton (2008) and Anthony Wall (2000), and Germany’s Marcel Siem (2004). Sterne is the most interesting of those contenders. He hasn’t played since this year’s Joburg Open in January because of a back problem.

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