Hoey on a hot streak

Michael Hoey kept up his hot in streak in South Africa when he topped the qualifiers for the €370,000 Africa Open Golf Challenge.

The Ulsterman was 12th in the Joburg Open last week, one shot outside the top ten which would have automatically earned him a spot in the Abu Dhabi Championship.

But he put his disappointment behind him by staying on in South Africa to win the 43-man qualifier for the Sunshine Tour event at East London on Thursday.

Now 23 under par for his last nine rounds, Hoey hit six birdies in a four under par 68 to finish two shots clear of the field and earn one of just 10 places in the field alongside fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke, Angel Cabrera, Retief Goosen and Richard Sterne.

The Africa Open is now the richest event on the Sunshine Tour that is not sanctioned by the European Tour.

Negotiations are underway to make it a dual sanctioned event in 2010, joining the Alfred Dunhill, the Joburg Open and the South African Open on the European Tour schedule.

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell will face Ernie Els and Lee Westwood when he defends the Ballantine’s Championship in Korea from April 23-26.

McDowell, 29, won the inaugural event last March in a memorable year which included his fourth European Tour victory at the Barclays Scottish Open and his Ryder Cup debut in Valhalla.

Set to make his 2009 debut in the Dubai Desert Classic at the end of the month, the Portrush ace is determined to win again when he returns to Pinx Golf Club on Jeju Island.

He said: “"I'll be doing my very best to mount a successful title defence. Winning the 2008 Ballantine's Championship was an unforgettable moment in my career and also the start of a brilliant year for me.

“I have some wonderful memories of my week at Pinx Golf Club and I'm thrilled to be returning as defending champion.”