The European Tour’s 2012 schedule begins in earnest this week with the Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt, something of a poor man’s Tournament of Champions (didn’t think that was possible, did you?).
With eligibility limited to recent European Tour winners and those who have amassed more than 10 victories in their career, the 35-man field is an unusual blend of established stars and young pretenders.
Chief among those hoping to make an impact this week is a duo of major-winners for whom encouraging performances have been hard to come by of late: Padraig Harrington, who has slipped to 89th in the current world rankings, and Ernie Els, trophy-less in over a year.
With the only one player from the top-25 in the world (Charl Schwartzel) set to participate in the event, each has wasted no time in talking up his chances.
Asked if he still expected to win majors, Harrington was unequivocal:
“That’s a big, strong word, but I do, yeah…
“People have this idea that just because you play well and you win one you should be doing that every year. That’s the hardest thing. It definitely puts a big burden on anybody who wins a Major, it really does. There’s a lot of expectation that goes with it.”
His South African colleague, also a triple major-winner, regards the tournament venue as a home track. He’s hopeful a little local knowledge can encourage the rediscovery of his putting touch.
“I’m hitting the ball beautifully… Really, I’m very happy with my ball striking. I’m still working on the flat stick. Hopefully that behaves itself this week, and I think I can have a very good chance…
“I’ve played this course all December and we were down here for three or four weeks and played a lot of golf around here. I have a good feel for the course and got to get that flat stick going.”
Other notables in the shortened field include Retief Goosen, Ryder Cup captain José Maria Olazabal, Darren Clarke, Matteo Manassero, Robert Karlsson and friend of WUP Michael Hoey.