Lowdown:
The European Tour remains in South Africa this week for the Africa Open at the East London Golf Club. The home nation will be well represented and many of Europe’s up and coming stars are on the starter’s sheet.

As many of the European Tour’s top players take a week off in preparation for the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Arizona next week, this tournament will provide a chance for some of the circuit’s lesser lights to shine. Many of the 2012 Challenge Tour graduates and those who came through Q school at the end of last year will tee it up at East London.

This will be only the fourth time the Africa Open has appeared on the European Tour schedule. The tournament began life as a Sunshine Tour event in 2008 and was initially hosted by the Fish River Sun Country Club near Port Alfred. Shaun Norris took the inaugural title. In 2009 the competition moved to East London GC and carried a dramatically increased prize fund. As a result it attracted a far stronger field that led to the Africa Open being co-sanctioned by the European Tour in 2010.

So far in its European Tour life, the tournament has produced two worthy victors. 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel took the title in 2010 while 2010 Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen came out on top in 2011 and again in 2012. Last year, the South African outlasted countrymen Tjaart Van der Walt, Retief Goosen and Jaco Van Zyl to claim the title.

Oosthuizen doesn’t start this week but South Africa will be well represented by Thomas Aiken, Jaco Van Zyl, Garth Mulroy and many others.

Designed by Colonel SV Hotchkin, the course at East London dates from 1893. It’s a historic and traditional layout winding through sand hills and coastal bush land. The course blends playing characteristics of both links and parkland. It’s an excellent test of skill and one that generally discovers a quality winner.

Venue:
East London Golf Club, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Date: Feb 14-17
Course stats: par 73, 6,601 yards
Purse: €1,000,000 Winner: €160,000
Defending Champion: Louis Oosthuizen (-27)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 14 – Sky Sports 2 from 8.30am
Friday 15 – Sky Sports 2 from 8.30am
Saturday 16 – Sky Sports 3 from 11am
Sunday 17 – Sky Sports 3 from 11am

Player Watch:

Jaco Van Zyl – He was fourth in this event last year and played extremely well last week in Johannesburg before fading towards the end of the final round. He’s not the longest hitter but that shouldn’t be an issue on this short layout.

David Drysdale – The Scot was tied 11th last week and finished in the top-15 in this tournament last year. He’ll have been greatly encouraged by the Scottish successes on tour so far this season and will look to continue in the same vein.

Tjaart Van der Walt – The South African played solidly last week and was runner-up to Richard Sterne in this event last year.

Key hole: 16th. At just 319 yards this short par 4 is reachable with a tailwind. But the hole demands an extremely accurate tee shot with heavy bunkering protecting the front of the green. With the wind against, it’s a totally different prospect and becomes a tough strategic test.

Skills required: Versatility. With differing playing characteristics on the front and back nines, players will have to use all their skills to negotiate the track successfully. Accuracy is the requirement on the front side while the wider spaces of the back nine allow the players to open their shoulders a little more. If the wind gets up it will play a part.

Where next?
PGA Tour –
Northern Trust Open preview