A whole four days after last season ended, the new European Tour campaign gets up and running this week when a number of tour card holders and those chasing playing rights head to South Africa for the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
David Lipsky took advantage of a number of big guns having the week off here last year to land the title but he is one of those who is not returning to defend the crown so we are guaranteed a different winner this year.
2018 – David Lipsky
2017 – Brandon Stone
2016 – Charl Schwartzel
2015 – Branden Grace
2014 – Charl Schwartzel
2013 – Charl Schwartzel
2012 – Garth Mulroy
2011 – Pablo Martin
2010 – Pablo Martin
2009 – Richard Sterne
We are back at the wonderful Leopard Creek Country Club this week where the wildlife is every bit as eye catching as the golf. This is one of the best courses in South Africa and one where accuracy comes at something of a premium, as highlighted by those winners listed above. The track is a par 72 which measures 7,249 yards so it isn’t especially long and the bigger hitters tend to have no significant advantage this week.
The course played much firmer and faster last year after significant changes were made and with the greens very small here control of the golf ball is a necessity hence the need to play it from the short grass. Water is in play on some of the holes which further suggests accuracy is the key here. I’m looking for tee to green monsters who are familiar with South African conditions.
Given that it is less than a week since the last season ended, and it did so with four high profile events in as many weeks, it is no surprise that the field is made up mostly of South Africans and the lesser lights on the European Tour. It is headed by the Andalucia Masters champion Christiaan Bezuidenhout but familiar South Africans such as Brandon Stone, Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel, all previous winners here, are all teeing it up.
Eddie Pepperell leads the European charge in terms of world rankings this week and he will be looking to get back on track after a disappointing end to the previous campaign. George Coetzee, Richard Sterne, Dean Burmester and Zander Lombard are among more South Africans in the field and there is also an appearance for the International captain Ernie Els two weeks out from leading his side in the Presidents Cup.
Given the level of quality South African players in the field it is something of a surprise that Christiaan Bezuidenhout is the 12/1 favourite to take this event down. He won at Valderrama earlier in the year and if you can win there you can win pretty much anywhere so that is a positive for him. He is getting better on this course but hasn’t yet broken the top 15 which would be something of a concern as is the fact he has played the last four weeks in some big events. A comedown would be natural here.
Brandon Stone has been ploughed into second favouritism this week and he is 14/1 to reclaim the title. He is the last player in the field to have lifted this trophy and earlier in the week he posted a tweet suggesting this is his favourite week of the year and that is never something to ignore. He didn’t make the final series on the European Tour so his last outing was when he bombed the 54 hole lead in Portugal, much to the frustration of my bank manager and all those who follow tips on this site. I’ve not put that behind me so regardless of how much he loves it here he isn’t for me.
Eddie Pepperell and Branden Grace will tee off as 18/1 shots to win the title this week but it is hard to make a case for either of them. Yes at their best they are arguably the two best players in the field but it has been a while since either of them have operated at that level. Grace has won here before so it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise ever known to man if he gets a lift from the venue but he would need a significant one. I’ll pass on both of these.
Charl Schwartzel and George Coetzee come next at 20/1. Schwartzel has a wonderful record around here but whether he’s past his best I guess we’re going to find out this week. If he is anywhere near his best he would be decent value here. Coetzee has been hitting the ball well for a while but the doubt over him comes on the putting surfaces where his putter has been stone cold for far too long now.
Zander Lombard took a huge step forward in his career when he contended in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City a few weeks ago and if he has that form with him here he is entitled to go very close. He faded on the final day in that tournament but given the magnitude of it and the difficulty of the golf course that might have been expected. It was a wonderful end to the season for the South African though. He was third here last year and looks to be swinging the clubs even better right now. Having last week off might not have hurt after that painful Sunday in Sun City and he looks a leading contender to me here.
Ross Fisher has only played here once and he finished third on that occasion and while his career has undoubtedly taken a dip over the last year or two, it is rare that the Englishman doesn’t hit the ball well, which is half the battle this week. He finished last season with three top 25s including a top 10 in Turkey where he was in excellent form. They were in tournaments with much better fields than this one. In Turkey he ranked just outside the top 20 in strokes gained tee to green and was even higher in greens in regulation. That form puts him right in the mix here.
It is near enough impossible to ignore the course form of David Drysdale this week and the reason why it is so good is because he has such an immaculate tee to green game. He has started to bring a better short game to the party in recent seasons so at 100/1 he has to be considered a genuine live outsider here. His form figures here in the last eight seasons reads 8-MC-25-11-6-18-11-2 which is as good as it gets. He clearly enjoys the test this track offers and at 100/1 I’ll pay to see how well he goes on it.
Hennie Otto has been in good form on the Sunshine Tour where he ranks very high in greens in regulation and not a million miles down the field in par 5 scoring which is going to be pretty big this week as well. Otto is a veteran around here with a number of top 20 finishes and given that the field this week looks about as weak as it has ever done I think there is a case for taking him at 100/1. He won the Sibaya Challenge last month and has only finished outside the top 20 once in his last eight outings on the Sunshine Tour. This isn’t a whole lot better field wise than one of those tournaments so 100/1 looks huge here.
I’ll also have a go on Keith Horne who hasn’t played much on the Sunshine Tour this year but in his seven events he has four top 12 finishes so he is another one who is extremely comfortable in these conditions. Horne has five top 20 finishes in his last nine starts around this track so he looks a big price at 150/1. He scores well on the par 5s and generally has a decent enough tee to green game so at the prices he can complete my team this week.
PLACED – Back Z.Lombard to win Alfred Dunhill Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 23.00 with Coral (1/5 1-7)
Back D.Drysdale to win Alfred Dunhill Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Coral (1/5 1-7)
Back R.Fisher to win Alfred Dunhill Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 23.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-7)
Back K.Horne to win Alfred Dunhill Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 151.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-7)
Back them here:
Back H.Otto to win Alfred Dunhill Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
Back him here: