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Zimbabwe Open without big home players

The eight-tournament summer section of the Sunshine Tour tees off on Thursday with a $102,600 Zimbabwe Open minus defending champion Mark McNulty, Nick Price and Tony Johnstone.

According to Louis Martin, the chief executive of the Sunshine Tour, McNulty and Johnstone's commitments at the World Cup in Japan last week didn't allow them to get back in time for the Zimbabwe Open at the Chapman Golf Club.

Price's playing schedule also ruled him out of the event, which traditionally relies on the Zimbabwean trio for its greatest drawcards.

"It is a pity, but the three of them have supported the Zimbabwe Open so well over the past few years that they cannot be too harshly judged for missing the odd one," Martin told Reuters.

The absence of Zimbabwe's big three opens the way for European Tour rookie Jean Hugo to cap a successful season with victory in a tournament he has dominated over the last two years.

The South African professional won the Zimbabwe Open in 1999 when it was last played at Chapman Golf Club, and lost on the final hole to McNulty last year.

Hugo was one of the most successful South African golfers abroad this year after countrymen Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.

He surged from 251 on the European Tour rankings last season to 34 this year after a third-place finish in the Trophee Lancome, two fourth-place finishes in the English Open and the Dunhill Links Championship, ninth in the Open de Espana, and a further five top 20 finishes.

"I've had a great season. It started out a bit shaky but towards the end I played really well," said Hugo.

"In Zimbabwe, I'm looking for a good start to the summer section of the Sunshine Tour and I want to show everybody that I'm not just back for a holiday from Europe."

With McNulty, Price and Johnstone absent, the Zimbabwean challenge will be led by Marc Cayeux, who is currently second on the Sunshine Tour's Order of Merit.

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