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Locals favourite for Sun City

The spotlight will fall largely on South Africa's Ernie Els and Retief Goosen when the duo form part of an exclusive 12-man field competing in the lavish Sun City Golf Challenge this week.

The invitation tournament, which features the world's 12 best available golfers competing for a first prize of $2-million, begins at the Gary Player Country Club on Thursday.

Els returns as the defending champion and hunting an unprecedented third successive victory in the tournament, beginning with his record winning total of 25-under par 263 in 1999.

As was the case in 1999, Els has not had a particularly memorable year this year and was unable to maintain his record of winning a tournament every year for the past seven years.

Goosen, in contrast, makes his debut in the Sun City tournament on the back of his most successful year ever in which he won the US Open, Scottish Open and Madrid Open to finish top of the European Tour's Order of Merit, and partnered Els to victory in the World Cup.

"I'm well aware of the pressure on me and the high expectations the South African public will have," Goosen said.

"But the biggest lesson in this tournament is just to focus on your own game. Ernie (Els) has learned that lesson over the past few years when the pressure was really on him to win the tournament.

"I don't mind people cheering me on, but I'm just going to focus on my own game."

Goosen has already played one practice round on the Gary Player Country Club course, which has been lengthened by 200 metres and had more bunkers added to certain holes to force the players to use the driver more often.

But the major winner believes the rough, which is at its most severe after two days of heavy rain, will be the greatest challenge in his bid to become only the fifth player in the event's 20-year history to win on debut.

"The rough is very thick. There are some places on the course where if you hit it in the rough you won't be able to reach the green. And there are others where you lose your ball completely.

"The rain also means there is no roll on the ball. During my practice round I couldn't recall one drive where I got roll on the ball. It just stops dead on the fairway."

The international challenge will feature amongst others Spain's Sergio Garcia, Germany's Bernhard Langer, Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, England's Lee Westwood, Canadian Mike Weir and Ireland's Padraig Harrington.

Langer, a late replacement following the withdrawal of American David Toms due to his reservations about travelling, and Montgomerie are both previous winners at Sun City.

Westwood returns to the layout where he lost to Els in a play-off for last year's title, and upon which he has also won the Dimension Data Pro-Am on the summer leg of the Sunshine Tour last year.

Both Harrington and Weir, who will also be making their debut in the event, come to Sun City on form with respective victories in the European Tour's Volvo Masters and the PGA Tour's The Tour Championship.

The 12-man field: Ernie Els (South Africa), Sergio Garcia (Spain), Bernhard Langer (Germany), Darren Clarke (Northern Ireland), Colin Montgomerie (Scotland), Jim Furyk (US), Retief Goosen (South Africa), Padraig Harrington (Ireland), Thomas Bjorn (Denmark), Mike Weir (Canada), Nick Price (Zimbabwe), Lee Westwood (England).

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