Alfred Dunhill Championship Preview7 min read
The Race to Dubai has only just been completed with Jon Rahm delivering a 13/2 winner for BetVictor followers last week but the new European Tour season gets underway on Thursday. The Alfred Dunhill Championship provides a stunning backdrop, on the edge of the Kruger National Park, with safari wildlife in South Africa on show at Leopard Creek.
The 7,249-yard par 72 favours strong ball strikers and there are plenty of risk-reward holes on a course featuring numerous water hazards. Home players are extremely comfortable at the scenic track with six of the last seven winners coming from South Africa.
Schwartzel can star in comeback event
Charl Schwartzel makes his long-awaited return from a wrist injury this week and it is worth backing the South African to challenge for immediate success at his favourite course. Despite being sidelined for more than six months, Schwartzel, who has been playing well in practice rounds recently, will be relishing his return to Leopard Creek and the chance to enhance his outstanding tournament record. Schwartzel has won four times at this course, most recently in 2015 and in his last eight visits, only twice finished outside the top four places.
Schwartzel simply loves Leopard Creek and will be inspired on his comeback this week. The 35-year-old has an exceptional record in home events with eight of his 11 European Tour titles coming in South Africa. The 2011 Masters champion is languishing at 250th in the world rankings and this is an insult to this world class player. Schwartzel’s time away from the sport will have only increased his hunger to fulfil his potential during the rest of his career and this is the ideal week to start his climb up the rankings. Schwartzel has impeccable course credentials and can threaten a fifth Leopard Creek victory at 16/1.
Stone seems sure to succeed on home turf
Brandon Stone has also triumphed at Leopard Creek and the South African talent looks worth backing to land another title here this week. Stone’s breakthrough on the European Tour came at the 2016 SA Open and he followed this up with a brilliant performance at the Alfred Dunhill Championship three years ago. He shot 22-under-par at the course to win by seven shots in an utterly dominant display. In three course starts, he has not finished outside the top 20 and last season’s tie for 15th would have been much higher if not for a poor final round.
Stone has already shown he is a big occasion player with the 26-year-old winning a Rolex Series event after a stunning final round 60 in the Scottish Open last year. Swing changes stalled his progress last season but Stone was increasingly confident about the state of his game, finishing in a tie for second at the Portugal Masters in his last event at the end of October. Stone, who has been busy preparing at Leopard Creek over the last week, is a huge fan of the track and is a strong bet to contend for his fourth European Tour victory at 18/1 each way.
Fisher fancied for more South Africa success
Ross Fisher also has an impressive record in South Africa and the experienced English golfer could challenge for a long overdue win this weekend. It is five years since his last victory but significantly it came in this country at the Tshwane Open. Fisher is extremely comfortable playing in South Africa and his last visit resulted in an impressive fourth place at the Nedbank Golf Challenge last year. Encouragingly, Fisher has also flourished at Leopard Creek with third place on his most recent start here in 2013.
Fisher has won five times on the European Tour and been inside the top 20 of the world rankings in his prime. The 39-year-old was frustrated with his overall performance last season and is determined make the most of his remaining years in the sport with more silverware a primary goal. An unexpected invite to the Turkish Airlines Open, on his last start, saw Fisher take full advantage as he contended before finishing in tenth spot. His best result of the year was a timely boost and he can take this form into the Alfred Dunhill Championship. Fisher is very capable of winning at this level and the 22/1 shot merits support this week.
Pigem could shock ’em
With three players backed towards the top of the betting, there is room for a huge outsider and Carlos Pigem could provide an upset. The Spaniard comes in this week full of confidence and optimism after winning back his European Tour card. Four rounds in the 60s, at the final qualifying stage, helped him finish ninth to secure promotion after a year away from the European Tour.
Pigem has fond memories of playing at Leopard Creek and the 29-year-old can enjoy another strong showing this week. His best result on the European Tour came at this tournament in 2016 when Pigem shot four under par rounds to tie for fourth place. Watching Rahm’s performance in Dubai will have inspired Pigem and two Spaniards, Alvaro Quiros and Pablo Martin, have lifted this trophy since 2006. Winning could ultimately prove beyond Pigem, against the leading South Africans, but he represents a huge each way price at 200/1 to feature on the leaderboard this weekend.
Charl Schwartzel each way
Brandon Stone each way
Ross Fisher each way
Carlos Pigem each way