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Gareth Maybin is hoping to impress on his Tour chance

By William S Callahan

Home is where the heart is and four-time Major winner Ernie Els is loving this week at his golfing 'alma mater' Glendower GC, venue for the South African Open Championship, hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni.

Els is fulfilling the same role which Rory McIlroy has adopted for the Irish Open at Royal County Down next May as a tournament ambassador, general host and persuader of fellow professionals to take part in the tournament, which begins today.

"It's wonderful to be back, especially here at Glendower in Ekurhuleni, the city where I'm from," said the 45-year-old.

"I've played a lot of golf here at Glendower so there's a lot of history here for me and it's wonderful to be back."

Two players who had no hesitation in showing their eagerness to join 'The Big Easy' in his home town are Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin and Dubliner Peter Lawrie.

Both fought a losing battle in 2014 to retain their European Tour status, and are happy to avail of a valuable sponsor's invitation to play in the tournament.

Lawrie and Maybin made a bid to bounce back quickly to full Tour status by competing in the Qualifying School last November, but they did not finish in the top 27 who gained those precious passports to potentially lucrative employment among the elite.

Instead, Lawrie finished 30th and Maybin 58th at PGA Catalunya and must rely on sponsors' invites and Challenge Tour fare as their staple diet for 2015 unless, of course, they hit the heights at Glendower.

A top-10 finish ensures the right to play the following week but that will be a tall order in a strong field dominated by South African players keen to capture their country's National Open title. Els has won the SA Open five times, the last success coming in 2011.

"It's a different dimension that I'm going into, but as a player right now I feel very motivated to win as many as I can before I'm done, so to speak - especially playing at this course that I know so well and coming back to my roots," he said.

"I still have the drive and want to achieve something. If I can be greedy I would go with Augusta for a win - that would be a Cinderella story."

Currently ranked at No 63 in the world, he hopes to contend strongly for his sixth South African Open win.

Last year's winner was Morten Orum Madsen of Denmark and he returns to defend his title.

Branden Grace will be among the leading challengers. He claimed his fifth European Tour title at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in December.

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