Michael Hoey will lead Ireland's Generation X-Men into battle in the Joburg Open in South Africa.

X-Factor. Michael Hoey believes he's ready this time.The Ulster hotshot, 29, believes he is better prepared mentally and physically to deal with the pressures of the European Tour after regaining his tour card.

And he reckons that having pals like Rory McIlroy, Jonny Caldwell and Gareth Maybin by his side on tour this year will make life even easier.

Set to tee off with former Ireland team mate Noel Fox at Royal Johannesburg today, Hoey said: "It’s great to have these guys out there playing well and it gives all of us a lift.

“It was great to see Gareth playing the final round with Lee Westwood at the South African Open and really looking the part.

“I thought he might struggle playing with someone like Lee, but he held himself together really well and was unlucky in the end."

Richard Sterne beat Maybin in a play-off to earn his second win on the trot and can make it a hatrick of European Tour victories if he triumphs at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington this week.

But Hoey has high hopes too on his return to the main tour.

He first earned his tour card in 2006 but finished 187th on the money list and only regained his playing rights through the Qualifying School last year.

Now a hardened competitor after two years on the Challenge Tour, he showed he has the game to compete when he tied for 11th behind Sterne and Maybin in December's South African Open.

He said: "I’ve got a much better swing now than I had then and I’m not changing things about it all the time.

“I’ve been working hard with my coach Andrew Ferguson at Royal Belfast and I’m really happy with the way I’m swinging the club.

"But I’m also not beating myself up so much over bad shots or bad rounds. 

“In the South African Open I really felt I was on contention and there was a point on the Saturday when I felt the television cameras on me. 

“It was disappointing not to get a little closer on the Sunday but I would have taken 11th at the start of the week, no question.”

Hoey will be one of 11 Irishmen on the main tour this term alongside former World Cup partner Maybin and fellow Q-School qualifier Caldwell.

But he is also part of Ireland's Generation X of golfing stars who are hoping to follow in the footsteps of superstars like Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley.

A good week in Joburg will take some of the pressure off Hoey and Caldwell as they bid to retain their cards.

Hoey and Caldwell are joined in South Africa by Challenge Tour hopefuls Fox and Mick McGeady.

McGeady, 30, agonisingly missed out on his tour card by a single shot when he bogeyed the last hole of the 108-hole Q-School test in Girona last November.

Fox, 35, earned his Challenge Tour card when he topped the money list on the third tier Europro Tour last year.

And he celebrated his 35th birthday in style on Monday when he snuck into the field at the last minute and landed the services of Padraig Harrington's caddie Ronan Flood for the week.

Fox and Flood are also friends and they will be hoping for better luck than they had when they teamed up in the Europro Tour's Ladbrokes Masters last September and missed the cut.