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WILL the Europeans be able to wrest the Tshwane Open title from local defending champion Dawie van der Walt when the e1.5 million (R22m) tournament gets under way in Centurion tomorrow?
Millions of viewers around the world are expected to tune in and watch some of the best golfers in the world in action at The Els Club at Copperleaf.
The Tshwane Open, now in its second year, is not just about the golf.
For the municipality the tournament is an opportunity to promote the City of Tshwane as a business and tourism destination.
Utilising TV coverage worth almost R1 billion over four days, and broadcasting to over 3 500 million homes around the world, the tournament will expose the city to millions of people across the globe.
Taking to the greens are South African professionals George Coetzee, Thomas Aiken, Hennie Otto, Darren Fichardt and Jbe’ Kruger who add 11 European Tour titles to Van der Walt’s tally of two, but the top six European Tour players in the tournament – which is co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour – have 30 European Tour victories between them.
Van der Walt will return to defend his title in what is one of the most lucrative tournaments on the local circuit.
Of the seven, only two were won by foreigners, namely Morton Ørum Madsen’s victory in the South African Open Championship and Thomas Björn’s victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Between them, Simon Dyson of England and Niclas Fasth of Sweden have won 12 European Tour titles with six each which gives an indication of the strength of the challenge the top South Africans will face if they are to keep the trophy here.
And the experienced David Howell of England and Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey have won five times each, while Frenchman Gregory Bourdy and England’s Ross Fisher have four titles apiece.
But the reality is they will have to contend with South African stars, all of whom have shown recent good form – notably George Coetzee and Thomas Aiken, who won the last two co-sanctioned events in South Africa, taking the Joburg Open and the Africa Open respectively.
Coetzee brings an advantage to the tournament, being the highest-ranked player according to the Official World Golf Rankings in the field: The week before the Tshwane Open, he was ranked 59th, and making the round of 16 at the World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play saw him move closer to the top 50.
Aiken was also inside the top 100 in the world at 79, while Ficardt at 108th and Otto at 123rd are lurking just outside the top 100.