Irish big cat McIlroy roaring loud as SA Open looms
Former World No1 Rory McIlroy posted a short video clip of a huge male lion while on safari at the weekend, a perfect metaphor for his own presence at this week's SA Open pro-am at Glendower Golf Club.
With four majors already, he is the biggest drawcard in the sport and his presence in Ekurhuleni has elevated the status of the grand old golf tournament to another level.
McIlroy might be the big cat in the field, but there are plenty of young lions hoping to take him down this week. And there are a few oldies such as Ernie Els who are also not ready to simply roll over either.
The Ulsterman, currently ranked No2 in the world after winning the US PGA Tour's Fedex Cup last season, is here because he is honouring a commitment he made to Els at the 2014 Irish Open.
Els, the official SA Open host, encouraged McIlroy to play in the world's second-oldest golf tournament, after The Open, when he was a guest of McIlroy's own charity foundation over two years ago.
"Rory was very serious about coming to South Africa when I told him he 'owed me one' at the Irish Open," Els said. "I'm glad that he made the commitment so soon. His presence will help the growth of the SA Open which has been doing so well over the last few years."
The SA Open field boasts five major winners - Els, McIlroy, Nick Faldo, Retief Goosen and Darren Clarke - and three former world No1s in Els, Faldo and McIlroy.
Els said on his website: "As you can imagine, my focus is very much on trying to win my sixth SA Open title and I'm working hard to try to make sure that I come out of the blocks fast in 2017 and generate some early momentum ."
Els also paid tribute to former SA Open champion Wayne Westner, who killed himself last week.
"He was some player and probably one of the best ball-strikers that I ever saw... " he said.
Among the best young talent in the field are 2016 champion Brandon Stone, who also clinched the Alfred Dunhill Championship a month ago and Joburg Open champ Haydn Porteous.