Fichardt primed but Schwartzel favoured

Darren Fichardt who, with just on R4.4 million, has earned nearly twice as much on the Sunshine Tour as any of his pursuers, can’t wait for the 2014 European Tour to begin.

Yes, this in spite of the fact that the Tour’s 2013 edition has only just ended with the season-closing DP World Tour Championship in Dubai on Sunday.

If he is looking forward to teeing off on Thursday in the 103rd South African Open, which is second only to the venerable (British) Open in age, it’s because he has always relished starting his new European Tour season with the four back-to-back South African tournaments that kick it off.

And the fact that this 2014 Tour opener is being played on the pristine, old-world, parklands course at Johannesburg’s Glendower Golf Club, serves only to heighten his enthusiasm.

“It’s always nice to get back home and have four in a row,” said Fichardt, who finished in a creditable 21st place in Dubai after playing the first two rounds alongside Rory McIlroy.

“Glendower is a very old, traditional golf course. I’ve played there a lot since I was very young, competing in amateur tournaments and such like. It’s a great course.

Fichardt said the past four weeks had seem him compete in some “unbelievably awesome tournaments”, but they had involved a lot of global travelling, so he was also looking forward to a less hectic travel schedule in the weeks ahead.

“My game’s in very good and a couple of things I’ve been working on have paid off, so I’m good to go.”

The 38-year-old will need to be if he is finally going to capture his country’s most distinguished golf crown.

Henrik Stenson, the SA Open’s defending champion and the planet’s first ever ‘double-double’ winner after his Dubai triumph on Sunday and his FedEx Cup triumph back in September, has opted out of this week’s event to rest his injury-troubled wrist. Other big guns like Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald never intended playing because of the Johannesburg event’s proximity to the gruelling Finals series.

But this week’s field is no pushover, nevertheless.

South Africa’s 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is in it. So too are Ryder Cup caps Ross Fisher and Robert Karlsson and two-time US Open winner Retief Goosen, who is one of the five former winners who will be looking to win again.

The other four are James Kingston, Hennie Otto, Gavan Levenson and David Frost, who’ll be coming to Johannesburg fresh from a highly successful stint on the over-50s Champions Tour.

With prize money of more than $1.8 million he finished third behind Bernhard Langer and Kenny Perry.

The overseas invaders?

Perhaps the one the South African contingent might most need to keep an eye on is Fisher.

The bookies certainly seem to think so.

At odds of 14/1 they have him in second place behind Schwartzel (4/1) on their list of top favourites to win at Glendower.

Next on their list comes Hennie Otto (22/1), Robert Karlsson (25/1) and Fichardt and Justin Walters at 33/1.

Fisher, along with other prominent compatriots such Robert Rock, the sweet swinger who defeated Tiger Woods when he won in Abu Dhabi last year, Simon Dyson, Graeme Storm and Steve Webster, will all be looking to become the first Englishman in 43 years to win the SA Open.

Tommy Horton, one of only 13 foreign winners in the 102 SA Opens played, was the last one to do it when he ended Gary Player’s five-year reign at Royal Durban.

Other British, Irish and mainland Europeans who are capable of making waves at Glendower are Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey, Scotland’s Craig Lee and Scott Jamieson, Spain’s Alejandro Cañizares and last, but certainly not least, the Italians Edoardo Molinari and Andrea Pavan.

Molinari, a fomer US Amateur champion, will be playing in his first event since undergoing surgery for an injured wrist in July, but Pavan could well be the more pumped up of the two after emulating Molinari and finishing top of the Challenge Tour rankings earlier this month,.

Charl Schwartzel 4/1
Ross Fisher 14/1
Hennie Otto 22/1
Robert Karlsson 25/1
Justin Walters 33/1
Paul Waring 35/1
Darren Fichardt 33/1
Jaco Van Zyl 33/1
Romain Wattel 40/1
Alejandro Canizares 40/1
Thomas Aiken 35/1
Scott Jamieson 40/1
Simon Dyson 40/1
Retief Goosen 45/1
Garth Mulroy 33/1
Tom Lewis 45/1
Ulrich Van Den Berg 66/1
Andrea Pavan 50/1.