The European Tour begins 2015 in South Africa for The South African Open Championship Hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni. Denmark’s Morten Ørum Madsen defends the title at Glendower GC.

Lowdown:
The European Tour begins 2015 in South Africa for The South African Open Championship Hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni. Denmark’s Morten Ørum Madsen defends the title at Glendower GC.

This is one of the oldest events to feature on the European Tour. The first South African Open was contested as an exhibition tournament in 1893 and 2010 saw the 100th staging of the great competition. This year will be the 104th edition.

The most famous South African golfers of the last 80 years have made this tournament their own. Bobby Locke won nine times between 1935 and 1955 before Gary Player took over, winning 13 times from 1956 to 1981. Other South African Major winners – Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman have all lifted the trophy.

Last season Morten Ørum Madsen of Denmark won by two strokes from Jbe Kruger and Hennie Otto. As those around him floundered, Madsen kept his composure to post a closing 67 and pick up his first European Tour victory.

Madsen went into the final round one shot behind tournament and home favourite Charl Schwartzel. When the 2011 Masters champion birdied the second, third and fourth holes to go three in front, it looked like the tournament might turn into a procession. But a triple bogey six at the par three sixth, then a double bogey at the 10th put paid to his hopes of clinching his home Open title.

As you would expect, a strong home contingent will tee it up at Glendower GC this week – Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Ernie Els are among the South African players on the start list.

Ernie Els has accepted the role of host and ambassador for the event this year. His two charities – Els for Autism and the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation will become beneficiaries.

“I’m very honoured to be offered the role and accepted without hesitation,” he said. “This is a tournament with incredible history and it has featured strongly throughout my career.”

The forecast for the week looks unsettled with thunderstorms a possibility. There could well be some delays to play.

Venue: Glendower GC, Gauteng, Johannesburg, South Africa
Date: Jan 8-11
Course stats: par 72, 7,545 yards
Purse: €1,100,000 Winner: €175,000
Defending Champion: Morten Ørum Madsen (-19)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 8 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Friday 9 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am
Saturday 10 – Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am
Sunday 11 – Sky Sports 4 from 10am

Player Watch:
Branden Grace – Winner of the last tournament of 2014, the Alfred Dunhill Championship, Grace is renowned for good streaks of play so could well keep his run going. He has won three times in his native South Africa and will be keen to add to that tally.

Richard Sterne – The talented South African won this event back in 2009. He was tied 11th in his last start on the European Tour and showed signs in the Alfred Dunhill Championship of a return to form.

Trevor Fisher Jnr – He was tied seventh in this event last year and was tied fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December. The planets could be aligning for Fisher.

Key hole: 15th. This reachable par-5 of 547 yards will provide a good birdie or eagle chance, but it’s not without danger. Bunkers at driving distance on the right side of the fairway cause players to veer left, but a stream waits just off the fairway on that flank. The key then to this hole is getting a good drive away. It’s one that could see some big swings in fortune on Sunday afternoon.