Although Nigeria’s only hope at the African Open got dashed on Tuesday with Oche Odoh placing 23rd in the qualifier that admitted only top ten players, the event still tees-off with high hope of producing an Africa winner.
After five successive home winners since its inception, history suggests that a strong international field could well face a fierce fight to prise the Africa Open from South African hands this week at East London Golf Club.
Before Thomas Aiken returned victorious at the Eastern Cape venue 12 months ago, fellow countryman Darren Fichardt prevailed in 2013, while former Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen claimed back-to-back successes from 2011-12 after Charl Schwartzel captured the inaugural title in 2010.
Former winner Fichardt and high-flying George Coetzee will be at the heart of the South African defence trying to warn off an international invasion this week, but nevertheless, both welcome the inclusion of a strong international line-up.
Coetzee said: “It was my first time playing [in 2010] and it was a big deal to see all the foreign players pull into East London.
“Since then the Africa Open always attracts a strong contingent of local and international players. The crowds are always fantastic, because they are lively but very neutral. They just want to watch some great golf and they cheer for everyone. It’s fun to play in front of galleries like that.
“Personally, I would very much like to put my name below Thomas’ on the trophy before the international players have their day.”
Having won a European and Sunshine Tour co-sanctioned event last season – the Jo’burg Open a week prior to Aiken’s success in East London – Coetzee may well be South Africa’s best chance of continuing their domination at the Africa Open.
Of the international contingent, Englishman Oliver Fisher may be one of those best placed to mount a challenge this week at East London.
Last year, Fisher came close to ending home nation dominance at the event. Were it not for a monstrous 30 foot putt on the first play-off hole by opponent Aiken, the South African run of success might have come to a halt.
The young man from Essex has started his 2015 Race to Dubai campaign well, too, notching strong back-to-back results in the first two Desert Swing events with a tied 12th place in Abu Dhabi, followed by a tied tenth in Qatar in his first two events of the season.
Also in the field this week on the Eastern Cape are newly-appointed European Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke, former Ryder Cup stars Oliver Wilson and David Howell, plus in-form Englishman Andy Sullivan, who will be looking to make it three wins on South African soil in The 2015 Race to Dubai after adding to his trophy haul last week at the Jo’burg Open.