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Charl's sights set on SA Open
Last updated: 14th November 2012
Charl Schwartzel hopes to make amends this week for the fact that while he has won the Masters, he has yet to win his home nation's South African Open.
This year's 102nd championship, the world's second oldest Open after the R&A's Open Championship, has occasionally been won by an outsider, but in general it has been dominated by South African winners, even in recent years since it was added to the European Tour circuit.
And Schwartzel is mustard keen to get his name engraved alongside the seven South Africans who have ensured that the Cup mostly remained on home soil during the past decade, Scot Richie Ramsay (2009) being the only offshore invader to win the title since the turn of the century.
The SA winners since then include Tim Clarke (2002 and 2005), Trevor Immelman (2003 and 2004), Retief Goosen (2006), Ernie Els (1998, 2007 and 2010), James Kingston (2008) Richard Sterne (2009) and this year's defending champion Hennie Otto.
Gary Player, a nine-time major winner and widely recognised as South Africa's greatest golfer of all time, won the SA Open a total of 13 times between 1956 and 1981, while Bobby Locke, the international pioneer who paved the way for South Africans in the USA and Britain, won the SA championship a total of nine times between 1935 and 1955.
Since the Player era, Ernie Els has won the championship five times, the last one two years ago, and Schwartzel, who came closest to winning the title in 2005 when he finished in second place behind Clark, would like to be the next South African to get his name alongside the SA Open royalty already engraved on the Cup.
He was quoted as saying this week: "The SA Open is definitely one of the events I want to win in my career. When you look at the players who have won the Championship in the past, it would be an honour and a privilege to see my name alongside theirs on the trophy.
"South Africans have obviously got a great record in the event, so hopefully this year it can be my turn to give the home crowds something to cheer about."
Otto 12 months ago held off the charging Austrian young gun Bernd Wiesberger to win the title for the first time and has made it clear that he will be doing his level best to win the SA Open back-to-back as Immelman did in 2003 and 2004 before going on to win his Masters Green Jacket.
The one-time, quick-to-anger, but now much cooler 36-year-old Otto is hoping to end a frustrating season on a high on the plush Jack Nicklaus signature course at Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate near Johannesburg, saying: "It'll be nice to go home. I grew up near the Serengeti, so I feel right at home there.
"It hasn't been a good year, what with my back injury, but hopefully I can come up with something special (this week). I hit some good shots last week and also the week before but just didn't hole enough putts, so hopefully I can carry that ball-striking form into this week and get the putter going."
Otto believes it was his "tremendous" putting last year that won him his SA Open title and feels that putting this week will be every bit as important on typically tricky Nicklaus greens.
"I'm sure I'll be drawing on my memories of the victory. It was on my bucket list, so it was great to tick it off. There are some great names on the trophy, so it was a real honour just to put my name alongside them. Nobody can take it away from me."
Neither Els, the winner this year of his second Open Championship, nor three of the country's other most recent major winners, Goosen, Immelman and Louis Oosthuizen, will be at Serengeti this week to oppose Schwartzel.
But Schwartzel cannot expect to find things easy for Germany's latest major winner, Martin Kaymer, the 2010 PGA Champion, will be there.
And so too will Schwartzel's fellow countryman, Branden Grace, who, from out of the blue, has astonishingly emerged as a four-time European Tour winner this year and will be bidding at Serengeti to become the first European Tour Member since England's Lee Westwood in 2000 to win five Tour titles in a single season.
Still without a win in 2012, Kaymer has had his quietest season in a while, but since his Ryder Cup heroics in September, he has been getting better and better and is clearly hungry and ready now to do something about maintaining his record of winning at least one Tour title in each of the years since 2008.
Swede Henrik Stenson and home-country former SA Open winners Sterne and Kingston are in a similar mould to Kaymer, Otto and even Schwartzel himself in that they have seen better times than they have been seeing this year.
Yet in each and every case they have all shown at various times in the past few years that they have what it takes to shrug away the poor form that has dogged them this year and burst back with a vengeance.
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