The DP World Tour heads to South Africa for the next two weeks beginning with the inaugural staging of the SDC Championship, a tournament which as ever in this part of the world is co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour.
We are on the countdown to the opening major of the year and the first WGC event of the season takes place next week so while this field lacks standout quality it does look to be a competitive one to go at it for the first time.
The St Francis Golf Links on the Eastern Cape is the venue for the first running of this tournament. As the name would suggest this is a true links golf course which was designed by Jack Nicklaus. It is a par 72 which only measures 7,192 yards. This isn’t a course at extreme altitude but the weather is set to be warm so the ball will fly so the track probably won’t play to that full yardage. It doesn’t appear to be a track for the bombers.
All links courses need a different skillset to the other tracks. The primary thing to be successful on a links course is good scrambling but all Nicklaus designs test out every iron in the bag. Usually those who putt well go better than those who struggle on the greens on links tests as well so I’m looking for aggressive iron players who have a decent short game to make their way towards the summit of the leaderboard.
Given that the leading 64 players in the world rankings are embarking on Austin for the WGC Match Play next week over an extended day, we were probably never going to get anyone of that calibre in the field this week but there are four players in the top 100 of the world rankings in the field this week. Adrian Otaegui is the leading one of those with Thriston Lawrence not far behind. The other two are Adri Arnaus and Jordan Smith.
There are eight players in the top 20 of the Race to Dubai rankings who have the chance to steal a march on a few others this week. Otaegui is one of those but it is twice winner on the season Ockie Strydom who is the leader of those with Sami Valimaki not far behind him. The other players in that group are Julien Brun, Daniel Gavins, Antoine Rozner, Joost Luiten and the winner of the opening event of the season in Dan Bradbury.
Jordan Smith is the 20/1 favourite this week but the fact he is that price highlights just how competitive and open this tournament could be. A reason for that is the lack of players who have course knowledge but Smith is one of the best players in the field. While he has a couple of wins at this level, he hasn’t really shown the form in recent weeks that suggests he is about to win. Some confidence can come in the fact he went T2-T16-T13 in the three South African events he played last season. I wouldn’t want to be totally against him but I’m in no rush to be with him either.
Antoine Rozner is the 22/1 second favourite. He has already won on the season and comes into this tournament off the back of a couple of top six finishes so is very much the form man coming in here. That win in Mauritius might be significant because he is going to get similar conditions here. He played three times in South Africa last year but didn’t break the top 20. Perhaps most significantly he finished fourth in the Dunhill Links and that form might work out this week.
Jayden Schaper is next in the betting at 25/1. He is yet to win on the DP World Tour and was in a position to do so in Kenya last week but faded away. I can’t hide the fact that I’m concerned by that and I’d like to see him in contention once again to see if last week was just one of those poor rounds or whether he genuinely has an issue. He is a home star though so should be familiar with the conditions and has a couple of top 10s on the season. He just feels a little short for me.
There are a trio of players at 30/1 this week. Joost Luiten, Julien Brun and George Coetzee are those players. Coetzee is known as a player who enjoys links conditions and certainly merits a lot of respect. Brun has been in good form this season but he is also yet to win at this level. He did finish in the top 15 in South Africa a couple of times last year though. Luiten has finished third in his last two tournaments but doubts persist over whether links courses suit his strengths.
Dale Whitnell has plenty of good form on links tracks over the last year or two but perhaps just as importantly he is in decent form heading into this week. He has top 12 finishes in three of his last four starts which includes in Singapore and Thailand on his last two outings. He also opened the season with a sixth placed finish in the Joburg Open so he has plenty of form behind him. Last season he was T14 at the Dutch Open and T10 at the Dunhill Links and fourth in Mallorca which was an exposed layout so I think conditions might well play into his hands this week and at the prices I’ll pay to see how well he goes.
The other main bet I like this week is Rafa Cabrera Bello. He has won a Rolex Series event on a links course in the past when he took down the Scottish Open. He also won on an exposed course in Spain 18 months ago. This season he has opened up with a top 10 in Abu Dhabi on a links layout and was fifth in his last start. RCB might not be the class of old but his short game is still in good order as he ranks second in scrambling on the DP World Tour this term. The conditions shouldn’t hinder Cabrera Bello and him thriving in them could naturally see him clear of the majority of the field. If he can dial a few irons in he shouldn’t be too far away.
Richie Ramsay probably hasn’t had the start to the season that he would have wanted but to be fair to the Scot he has only played three times so he has probably been shaking off the rust a little. 2022 was a great year for Ramsay though. He won the Cazoo Classic on a links course at Hillside which is no surprise because he has countless top 20 finishes in the Dunhill Links and other links events. He is a former winner in South Africa and was fourth in a tasty field at the Nedbank in this country at the back end of last season and while his game has been carrying some rust his short game hasn’t as he sits in the top 10 for scrambling. If the rest of his bag can cooperate in familiar conditions Ramsay should be contending this week.
Daniel Gavins has already won on the DP World Tour this season when he took the Ras Al Khaimah down and there is plenty of reason to think he’ll go well on a links course. One of those is because he has been sixth in the last two Dunhill Links and the other is because he sits in the top 20 for strokes gained around the green. There are snippets of South Africa form which further convinces me that the Englishman could have a decent week here, especially if he can fire his irons well. Gavins loses ground off the tee this season but the rest of the bag is in good order. With no dramatic test off the tee this week he is another who should go very well.
Back D.Whitnell to win SDC Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-6)
Back D.Gavins to win SDC Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 91.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-6)
Back them here:
Back R.Cabrera Bello to win SDC Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 46.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-6)
Back R.Ramsay to win SDC Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-7)