CHARL Schwartzel returns determined for a second win at the Alfred Dunhill Championship on Thursday, riding the wave of his victory at the Thai Golf Championship last week.
The 28-year-old South African tees off at the Leopard Creek Country Club on the southern border of the Kruger National Park, having won in 2005 and finished second four times afterwards, including last year.
He will start with confidence, having won by 11 strokes in Chonburi last Sunday — the biggest margin of any tournament in the world this year, and the biggest ever in the Asian Tour.
At the end of a 20-month spell without a title since he took the Masters Championship in 2010, the Johannesburg native could not resist returning to a course deemed one of the world’s most beautiful before the end of the year.
"I’m looking forward to this week. I am tired but it’s just such a nice place that I couldn’t pull out," he said, on top of his game after a year of injuries and poor form.
But he will face tough competition in the form of countryman Garth Mulroy, who is determined to defend his title from last year at the second European Tour event of the 2013 season at the par-72 6,665m course.
"It’s probably my favourite course in South Africa. You’ve got to drive the ball well, the greens are always great, and I love the bush too. You get to go and look at some animals," he said.
"I hope it can inspire me again. It’s always nice to go back to a place where you have played well or won in the past," he said, hopeful of his sixth European Tour title in a natural setting among various antelope species, leopards, hippos and crocodiles.
Schwartzel’s friend, Louis Oosthuizen, is another one to watch — the South African finished among the top six in his last four European Tour tournaments. He was runner-up at the Singapore Open last month and hungers for a trophy to add to his 2010 British Open title.
Two-time European Tour champion Robert Rock, from England, is looking forward to the challenge.
"It’s just a great course," he said. "There are a lot of interesting shots that need to be played. It’s a good layout where there are some holes that can be attacked. The fairways are reasonably generous off the tee and because they are soft, you’ve got an extra bit of room to play with.
"The rough isn’t that punishing so it’s a second-shot course: you’ve got to really find your route in properly and play the right shapes," he said, though he found the greens a bit softer than usual.
The Englishman will look out for the par-three seventh, par-four 11th and par-five 18th as especially difficult holes.
"I always seem to play quite well in SA, quite well at the start of the year, so it all adds up to somewhere I expect to do well at."
Meanwhile, Jose Maria Olazabal is aiming to put the seal on a memorable year by leading Europe to a successful title defence at this week’s Royal Trophy in Brunei.
Less than three months after masterminding Europe’s Ryder Cup triumph, the Spaniard will play a central role in his continent’s bid to defeat a Naomichi "Joe" Ozaki-led Asian team at the Empire Hotel and Country Club from Friday.
In the sixth edition of the three-day match-play contest, founded by the late Seve Ballesteros and with a similar format to the Ryder Cup, Olazabal will act as a playing captain in a power-packed eight-man European team.