East London – The South African dominance of the Africa Open golf championship will be severely tested from Thursday with many leading local stars absent.
Major champions Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel and George Coetzee, Branden Grace and Richard Sterne miss out on the event in this Indian Ocean town.
They are preparing for the World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain in Arizona next week along with United States-based compatriots Tim Clark and Ernie Els.
Former British Open winner Oosthuizen has lifted the Africa Open trophy twice and ex-US Masters champion Schwartzel once since it became a European Tour-Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event three seasons ago.
Sterne would have fancied his chances of topping the leaderboard having won the Joburg Open by seven strokes last Sunday, a week after finishing runner-up to Stephen Gallacher of Scotland in the Dubai Desert Classic.
South African contenders include Trevor Fisher, who collapsed in the final round of the Joburg Open after matching Sterne for 54 holes, Thomas Aiken, Keith Horne, Jbe Kruger and Jaco van Zyl.
“It is going to be a tough week. A South African has won the tournament every year since its launch and there are a lot of guys like me trying to break into the big time,” said Fisher.
“The golfers from abroad would like to break that tradition and there are some guys coming to East London this week in red-hot form like Ricardo Santos and Tommy Fleetwood.”
Portuguese Santos, who shared third place at the Joburg Open, and Englishman Fleetwood form part of an impressive foreign challenge in the $1,345 million tournament.
English pair David Horsey and Robert Rock, Indian Shiv Chowrasia and Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal are two-time European circuit champions hoping to smash the South African stranglehold.
Spaniard Rafael Cabrero-Bello, Scott Jamieson of Scotland, Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, Matthew Baldwin of England, Swede Magnus Carlsson, Alastair Forsyth of Scotland and Argentine Emiliano Grillo are other challengers.
The East London course is a mix of hills, dunes and coastal indigenous bush which staged the South African Open six times before becoming home to the Africa Open. – Sapa-AFP