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European Tour season starts in South Africa
January 5, 2012

Former British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen will have birdies and babies on his mind this week when the 2012 European Tour tees off along the Indian Ocean coast in South Africa.

Oosthuizen, whose seven-stroke Major triumph at St Andrews two years ago ranks among the great shocks of the past decade, defends the Africa Open title at East London Golf Club from Thursday.

But as the 31-year-old drives, chips and putts his way round the par-73, 6,190-metre part-parkland, part-links course in the Eastern Cape town, his mobile phone will never be far away.

Wife Nel-Marie is expecting their second child soon and Oosthuizen smiled this week while admitting there could be a call from his wife or family doctor telling him to get home quickly.

The 1.78-metre South African says he will not be distracted in the search for a first title since winning a play-off against Briton Chris Wood and Spaniard Manuel Quiros in East London 12 months ago.

"Sometimes it is good to have your thoughts elsewhere and not solely on golf. I will be focused on what I have to do on the course, but in the back of my mind I will be mentally checking on what is going on at home."

Oosthuizen, nicknamed Shrek after the movie character, respects a layout featuring a tight front nine and a less claustrophobic inward journey, where he returned a 16-under-par 276 last year before winning at the first extra hole.

"It is a course where there are not a lot of driver holes and you should try and keep the ball low if you can," said the winner of three European Tour and six South African Sunshine Tour events.

"There are some tight fairways so you have to be careful, but it is also a course where, if you take it on and succeed, you can shoot really low numbers," he added.

Another former South African Major winner, Retief Goosen, is the other big 'name' in a largely local field for the opening tournament on the Road to Dubai with one million euros in prize money at stake.

The 'Goose' produced a final-round 65 in 2009 to win the first Africa Open staged in East London and he appreciates the importance of making a good start to the new season.

"To be successful you have to win and I would love to get my 2012 season off to a fast start and, hopefully, I will be on the winning side of the final putt," said Goosen.

A lesser known South African capable of mounting a serious challenge for the 158,500 euros first prize is 25-year-old George Coetzee from Pretoria, who finished 26th on the Road to Dubai standings last season.

Pipped by Dane Thomas Bjorn in a play-off for the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, he came third at the Portuguese Masters, Scottish Open, BMW International and Alfred Dunhill Championship.

Apart from Oosthuizen, the field includes three 2011 European Tour winners in locals Thomas Aiken (Spanish Open) and Garth Mulroy (Dunhill Championship) and Indian Shiv Chowrasia (Avantha Masters).

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