Euro Tour’s unheralded seek glory at Joburg Open

David Horsey won the 2010 BMW International Open.

David Horsey won the 2010 BMW International Open.

Joburg Open

Jan. 13-16

Course: Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, East Course (7,590 yards, par 71), Johannesburg.

Purse: $1.3 million euros. Winner's share: 206,050 euros.

Last year: South Africa's Charl Schwartzel closed with a 5-under 66 for a six-stroke victory.

SIX TO WATCH

Alex Noren – The impressive Swede has yet to win on the European Tour. That’s not due to a lack of effort because the former Oklahoma State player is one of the hardest working players on the Euro circuit. He has a chance this week in a weak field.

Charl Schwartzel – Defending champion is the outright favorite, which is why British bookmakers Ladbrokes has him as a 4-1 favorite.

Ross McGowan – The Englishman’s only win on the European Tour remains the 2009 Madrid Masters. He’s due for a win.

Richard Sterne – The Joburg Open is Sterne’s third event in his comeback following a year off due to injury. He’ll be looking to improve on his 30th and 21st place finishes in his last two events.

Thomas Aiken – He has yet to win on the European Tour but comes into this event with three consecutive top-15 finishes, including 5th in last month’s Alfred Dunhill Championship.

Anton Haig – The South African won the 2007 Johnnie Walker Classic and then lost his way. He gained his card at Euro Q- School last year. It’s time he got his career back on track.

Quality is thin on the ground at this week’s Joburg Open. Charl Schwartzel is the only player in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking in the field.

With 210 spots available in the field to compete at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, there was plenty of room for Europe’s elite in the co-sanctioned event with the Sunshine Tour. However, many players opted to rest in preparation for the four-tournament Middle East swing that begins next week in Abu Dhabi.

England’s Danny Willett, world No. 74, is the only other player here in the world top 100. British bookmaker Ladbrokes lists him second at 13-1, with Schwartzel the firm favorite at 4-1.

Rain in the Johannesburg area means both courses will play long, which plays into Schwartzel’s hands.

“I am confident going into this tournament because I have been playing well and a soft course suits me,” said the 26-year-old defending champion.

“My performance at the Joburg Open last year was probably the best golf I have played. You do not make only three bogeys in a tournament over those two courses without playing well.”

English players such as David Horsey, Ross McGowan and Richard Finch should compete with Willett to fly the English flag. Meanwhile, Darren Clarke looks to get back to winning ways in Johannesburg. The Northern Irishman has not won for two years; his last victory came in the 2008 KLM Open.

With so many European players opting staying away from Johannesburg, it’s a chance for the minnows to make hay. Even players who don’t have full European Tour rights are playing this week. Indeed, there are four players in the draw who failed to get cards at European Tour Q-School.

With a prize fund of 1.3 million euros for the 65 and ties who make the cut, this event is the richest played in South Africa on the 2011 European Tour schedule. The winner’s share is 206,050 euros.

Most expect Schwartzel’s name to be on that check, but names not familiar to even diehard European Tour fans will be dreaming of becoming king of Joburg.

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