Schwartzel tees off as a hot favourite on home ground


JOBURG OPEN:Charl Schwartzel finds himself a red-hot favourite for his first tournament of 2013 this week - and no wonder, really.

The former US Masters champion finished last year in staggering fashion, winning the Thailand Championship by 11 shots and then the Alfred Dunhill Championship on home soil by 12.

That was the 28-year-old South African's second victory at Leopard Creek and now he tries for his third in four years in the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington.

"I'm feeling really nice and refreshed after a long (seven-week) break and looking forward to competing again," Schwartzel said on his website.

"My game feels good. I've been practising and trying to get my game as sharp as it was at the end of last year. It's a course I played lots as a junior and amateur and I've had a lot of success there as a pro.

"It's always nice to play a European Tour event at a golf course where you feel so comfortable and in front of your home crowd."

The world number 18 is 49 under par for his last tournament rounds - and that after coming fifth, third and second in his three previous events.

Compatriots Branden Grace, George Coetzee and Richard Sterne are closest to Schwartzel in the betting.

Grace is the defending champion, his victory just a few weeks after surviving the Tour qualifying school being the first of five during 2012.

Coetzee is still seeking his first title on the circuit, but two weeks ago looked all set for a play-off in Qatar until Chris Wood eagled the final hole, while Sterne was pushed into second place by Stephen Gallacher in Dubai.

Damien McGrane, Gareth Maybin, David Higgins are the Irish contingent teeing off this morning.

Joburg Open The Lowdown

Course: The East and West, Royal Johannesburg and Kennsington Golf Club, Johannesburg

Prizemoney: €1.3m (€206,505 to the winner)

Length: East7,952 yards West7,237 yards

Par: Both 71

TV: Sky Sports from 8.30am today

Course overview: Two different courses are used. The East is the more difficult, with back-to-back par fours on 10 and 11 among the toughest in the game. On the West course, the fairways are generous and the greens large. A round is played on each course the first two days, finishing off with 36 holes on the East.

Weather forecast: Heavy rain but little breeze

Players suited: Those with power to deal with the length of these courses and bad weather.

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