DOHA, Qatar – South Africans have won three of the five European Tour events in the 2016 season, and two more of the country's players seem strong candidates for a victory at the Qatar Masters.
Former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen tees up for the first time in 2016 after a seven-week break and will look to continue his remarkable record of results in the opening event of a calendar year.
In 2011 and 2012, he won the Africa Open and had consecutive victories in the Volvo Golf Champions in 2013 and 2014. Last year, when injury prevented him from starting his campaign until March, he placed sixth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
''After a good break, you want to go back out on the golf course again,'' said Oosthuizen, who played the Nedbank Golf Challenge in early December and didn't pick up his clubs again until last week. ''I think a lot of times with the schedules we have these days you lose that a bit, to be hungry again just to go out and play. I got a bit of that back again.''
Branden Grace is the defending champion in Doha and showed his form last week with a fifth-place finish – tying with top-ranked Jordan Spieth – in a strong field at the Abu Dhabi Championship. The No. 11-ranked Grace could break into the world's top 10 for the first time after this week.
''It's something you dream about as a young player, being in the world's top 10, so it would be huge for me to achieve that,'' said Grace, who finished in the top four in two majors in 2015. ''My career has excelled ever since (winning in Qatar last year). It really put me back on the map again and it's a week I'll never forget.''
Charl Schwartzel, Brandon Stone and Haydn Porteous are the South African winners so far this season, all in events on home soil.
Grace is attempting to become the first player to win back-to-back titles at Doha Golf Club.
Many of European golf's top names such as Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson started their 2016 campaign in Abu Dhabi last week, but Sergio Garcia prefers to begin his in Qatar.
It will be the 36-year-old Spaniard's 11th appearance there – he won in 2014 and has had five other top-10 finishes. Garcia said the course suits him.
''When you can play on one of those courses that you feel comfortable, usually you seem to do fairly well,'' the No. 12-ranked Garcia said.
Garcia plays his first two rounds with Grace and Matthew Fitzpatrick, a 21-year-old Englishman who Garcia thinks could be one of the ''four of five'' new faces in Europe's Ryder Cup team in September. Fitzpatrick had 10 top-10 finishes in 2015.
''He's got a lot of potential,'' Garcia said. ''He looks like the kind of player that could definitely make the team, the odds are definitely looking good.''
Stenson pulled out of the tournament last week while playing in Abu Dhabi.