New European Tour season tees off in African bushveld

Wed Nov 25, 2015 10:17am EST
 
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By Mark Gleeson

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Just a few days after Rory McIlroy won Dubai's DP World Tour Championship on Sunday and was crowned Europe’s top money earner for a third year in four, a new cycle begins in South Africa.

The 2016 European Tour tees off six weeks before the turn of the year with the Alfred Dunhill Championship at the Leopard Creek Country Club at Malelane, on the border of the Kruger National Park, reflecting the growing international nature of a tour that began in 1972 with almost all of its tournaments held in Britain and Ireland. The Leopard Creek course is one of the most unique in the world, bordering on the world-renowned game reserve and featuring water holes alive with crocodiles and hippos.

Visitors are warned to take a caddy to both “spot your ball and the wild animals that lurk on the course,” according to the website (www.top100golfcourses.co.uk), which rates it top in South Africa. But for all the beauty of the surroundings, it marks a low-key start to a new season with just two of the top 10 finishers from the 2015 tour entered. The absence of a break between the tours means no opportunity for a build-up to the new campaign and something of an underwhelming feeling, as defending champion Branden Grace suggested this week. "It's five weeks (on the tour) in a row now for me, I feel a little bit tired but you feel when you come home it doesn't feel like a normal tournament week," he said. "You feel you're more relaxed coming here." Grace, ranked 18th in the world, was third last weekend in Dubai and won at Leopard Creek last year by seven shots. He is one of only two from the top 10 of the 2015 Race to Dubai rankings, finishing third, who compete this weekend. Louis Oosthuizen came sixth and the pair headline a healthy home presence in the field where three-time winner Charl Schwartzel is seen as the man to beat. “This tournament has served me well over the years and gotten me out of some slumps,” the former Masters champion said, as he seeks to put behind him a year marked by problems with his swing and a resulting loss of confidence. “It’s gotten me back on my feet before, and I’m hoping for the same thing,” said Schwartzel.

(Editing by Rex Gowar)