Oosthuizen is the golfer considered most likely to break the five-year drought in terms of a South African winner, but the world number seven is returning to the Gary Player Country Club after a year’s absence, having finished last in his only previous appearance, in 2010.
“I forgot how narrow the fairways are and how thick the kikuyu is. The rough is really thick all around the fairways and greens, because of the recent rain, so you have to drive straight or you’re going to struggle. The greens are running pure but the rain has made them a bit slow and adapting to the pace of the greens is going to be one of tomorrow’s keys,” Oosthuizen said after his pro-am round on Wednesday.
“So you have to think that Lee Westwood’s name is going to be right up there. He has an amazing record around this course, he’s a world-class player and one of the best ball-strikers in the game.
“He drives the ball so straight and he has great iron play, so he gives himself so many opportunities for birdies. He’s able to take driver on a lot of holes where the rest of us take three-wood, that’s how confident he is with that club,” Oosthuizen said.
Westwood claimed his second successive NGC title last year after weathering a great final-round charge by Sweden’s Robert Karlsson, but the Englishman could be in for an even stiffer challenge this year with both Oosthuizen and Justin Rose coming into the tournament in hot form.
Oosthuizen finished third on the European Tour order of merit and is coming off five successive top-10 finishes, but his description of the year as “frustrating” was a telling sign that the 2010 Open champion is determined to return the famous crystal globe to South Africa.
“It’s been frustrating because I feel I’ve been playing better than my finishes. I guess I’m satisfied with the year overall, but disappointed that I lost twice in playoffs. I always say I want three wins a season, I’ve got two, so to win here this weekend would end the year on a high.
“Plus, growing up, this and the SA Open were the two tournaments you really wanted your name on the trophy. You always remember watching the tournament on TV as a kid and it’s a great event,” Oosthuizen said.
Rose, born in South Africa but based in England since he was five, will also be especially motivated to win, having finished second to Trevor Immelman by just one stroke in 2007.
Charl Schwartzel is another South African favourite, but the 28-year-old seemed to talk down his chances on Wednesday after a year that was badly disrupted by a torn rib muscle in June.
“It’s never nice not playing well and you always go into the tournament with the goal of winning. But it’s been a long process coming back from that injury and I’m not expecting anything this week. If I have a good week and play the way I know I can, then I’m easily capable of winning. But it’s too early to say what’s going to happen, even though things are definitely turning,” Schwartzel said.
While Africa’s Major still has a celebratory, exhibition type feel to it and it is the end-of-year party for corporate South Africa, the rest of the field will also not want to defame their reputations.
Martin Kaymer is a former world number one, Paul Lawrie an ex-major champion who is enjoying a resurgence in his career and Nicolas Colsaerts is a rising star. All of them will be out to impress and will be dangerous outsiders for the $1.25 million first prize.
Draw – 11h10 Louis Oosthuizen (SA) & Francesco Molinari (Italy); 11h22 Garth Mulroy (SA) & Martin Kaymer (Germany); 11h34 Peter Hanson (Sweden) & Charl Schwartzel (SA); 11h46 Carl Pettersson (Sweden) & Bill Haas (USA); 11h58 Nicolas Colsaerts (Belgium) & Paul Lawrie (Scotland); 12h10 Justin Rose (England) & Lee Westwood (England).