Grace faces stiff competition as 2013 European Tour tees off

David Legge
Branden Grace of South Africa, pictured during round one of the 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, on August 9, 2012. Grace faces stiff competition when he defends the Volvo Golf Champions title as the 2013 European Tour tees off on Thursday

Rising South African star and winner of five European Tour events Branden Grace faces stiff competition when he defends the Volvo Golf Champions title as the 2013 European Tour tees off Thursday.

There are seven Major winners in the elite 36-strong field, including South Africans Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen, Irishmen Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington, Scot Paul Lawrie and Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal.

Italians Matteo Manassero and Francesco Molinari, Swedes Peter Hanson and Henrik Stenson and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts add to the international flavour for the tournament at Durban Country Club.

The sponsors have also added spice to the championship, won by Grace after a play-off against Els and Goosen at Fancourt last year, by offering a truck and an excavator as well as the traditional car for holes in one.

Another competitor is Paul Casey of England, who preceded Grace as winner of a tournament open only to winners during the previous European Tour season or winners of more than 10 career titles on the circuit.

Seemingly ageless Miguel Angel Jimenez from Spain was also scheduled to take part, but a close-season broken leg after a skiing accident in his homeland put paid to the plans of the pony-tailed crowd favourite.

Late entrant Harrington says he cannot imagine a better venue to start the year than a course rated among the top 100 in the world by Golf Magazine and host of 17 South African Open tournaments.

"I am looking forward to getting out on the course and competing. This is an ideal tournament to start my year off where there is a limited field to test myself against," said the three-Major champion.

"There will be no cut and beautiful weather is almost guaranteed -- it is a great event and I am really looking forward to competing in South Africa," added Harrington.

Another golfer relishing the chance to tee off is twice US Open champion Goosen, who is well down the road to recovery after a back operation last August.

"Everything is going really well with my rehabilitation and I am back out on the course and enjoying playing golf with my family and friends," said the South African popularly known as 'Goose'.

Stenson returns to a country where he enjoyed pre-Christmas success, winning the South African Open near Johannesburg by three strokes from local George Coetzee.