Els, Goose lead local charge

Meshack Motloung

Meshack Motloung

The stage is set for one of the biggest golf extravaganzas when 12 world-acclaimed golfers tee off at Gary Player Country Club for the prized Nedbank Golf Challenge.

The four-day tournament that is played yearly starts at Sun City today and ends on Sunday.

It may be anybody's game but there will be more than pride at stake in this golf event that is bound to attract one of the biggest followings when it gets under way.

South African golden boy Ernie Els and countrymen Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelmann, Rory Sabbatini and Charl Schwartzel are excited and are looking forward to the game.

Els, after showing promising signs of fully recovering from his knee injury, won the SAA Open and then compiled seven top-10 finishes in Europe and five on the PGA Tour.

So there can be no doubting his determination to continue his winning ways and to return to the top of the golfing pile.

Goosen is the last South African to have won the Golf Challenge, having triumphed in 2004, and he could just be the player to watch again this year.

For the second consecutive year, Charl Schwartzel won the Sunshine Tour order of merit and a place in the Nedbank Golf Challenge as a consequence.

He may be the lowest ranked player in the field but, as he showed last year, that does not mean he is just here to make up the numbers.

In the 2004-05 season Schwartzel, who is likely to be a threat at Sun City, claimed victory at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.

Then in April this year he won for the first time outside South Africa as a professional, clinching the Open de Espana, that moved him into the top 40 on the world rankings.

An eleventh-hour invitation to Sun City to replace Sergio Garcia - who was a late withdrawal - might prove to be just the tonic for Immelman to continue his march towards his childhood goal.