European Tour tees off in Johannesburg
This is a Ryder Cup year with the biennial match between the US and Europe due to take place from September 19-21.Updated: Jan 09, 2008 10:44 IST
The first European Tour event of 2008 begins on Thursday at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington club with the staging of the 1.1-million euro Joburg Open.
Among the leading contenders are Northern Ireland's resurgent Darren Clarke and Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin who won last year's BMW Asian Open in Shanghai, and is hoping to take his 2007 form into the 2008 season which officially began last November with the HSBC Champions tournament, also in China.
This is a Ryder Cup year with the biennial match between the United States and Europe due to take place at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky from September 19-21.
Clarke was one of the heroes of Europe's 2006 Ryder Cup triumph at the K Club in Ireland, winning all three of his games. He said at the time he was determined to play well to honour his wife Haether who had succumbed to cancer a month earlier.
But then depression over her death set in and his golf went sour. Last year he missed 12 cuts on the 2007 European Tour and it was only towards the end of the year, in the 2008 South African Airways Open played halfway through December, when he tied for third, that the 39-year-old looked like the Clarke of old.
"I've worked hard over Christmas and believe I have finally turned a corner," he said. "Now I am looking forward to getting my year off to a fast start and putting myself into the Ryder Cup picture."
Jacquelin, 32, has never played in the Ryder Cup but winning in Shanghai last year encouraged him to pursue his dream of making the team, which is why he is here this week - seeking Cup points early on in the year through a strong performance in Johannesburg.
The Joburg Open is played over Royal Johannesburg & Kensington's two courses - East and West - for the first two rounds. The field of 204 is roughly divided 50-50 between players from the European Tour and South Africa's Sunshine Tour.
The top 65 players and ties will make the 36-hole cut and the final two rounds will take place on the more famous East course.
Leading South Africans in the field include twenty-somethings Richard Sterne, Anton Haig and Charl Schwartzel who all won on the European Tour in 2007, and 42-year-old James Kingston who captured the South African Airways Open to register his first victory in the 13 years he has spent campaigning on the Eurotour.
Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, promising England youngster Ross McGowan, Swedish pair Joakim Backstrom and Patrik Sjoland, Germany's Marcel Siem and Sven Struver, and France's Francois Delamontagne and Marc Farry are some of the better-known Europeans in the field.