As the DP World Tour ends its stint in South Africa, the stars come out to play.

Whilst the Nedbank was officially part of the 2022 season, the invitational was the start of a four -event run that now concludes at the picturesque Leopard Creek, summed up by the course website:

“Golfing hazards take on a new dimension at Leopard Creek, for much of the water is home to the magnificent creatures for which the river is named – crocodiles. Extensive use has been made of water features and sightings of crocodile, hippo, antelope, buffalo and elephant are commonplace, on the course or in the Kruger Park bordering the course.”

Not only is this time for Tony Johnstone to show his exacting knowledge of the local wildlife, but golf fans can witness some of the true legends of South African and European Tour golf.

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Christiaan Bezhuidenhout Win

Whilst single-figure favourite Christiaan Bezuidenhout represents the best of the current generation of players, viewers will also see the likes of former Masters winners as well as the future of African golf.

In Bez we have a worthy favourite that is hard to crab given his current and course form. The 28-year-old won here in 2020 on the way to an impressive back-to-back fortnight that included the South African Open (at another Gary Player design), whilst both his victory at Valderrama and play-off defeat against Lucas Herbert in Dubai can be linked into Adri Arnaus, runner-up and third in those events and, incidentally, sixth here behind this week’s favourite.

Latest form sees the short-game wizard leave some acceptable, if disappointing, PGA results behind, with a fifth at his favoured Gary Player Country Club being followed a fortnight later with a very laidback third place finish at the Joburg Open.

At both home events, Bez started slowly and was never nearer than at the line, and trusting that the cobwebs have been blown away, he has to be in the plan, even if as a saver.

There’s a decent argument to say multiple event champion Charl Schwartzel and still-classy Louis Oosthuizen should challenge for favouritism (Oosty has now shortened up) but I’m simply not convinced their hunger is as strong as it once was, and of the three, I’d much rather be with the player with more to come.

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Hennie Du Plessis E/W (1/4 5 Places)

If we are getting Bez beat, then it makes sense to row along with history, at least for a pair of back-up wagers.

There is a host of South African players attempting to continue the run of seven home winners from the last nine, but this course tends to lend itself to experience, and Hennie Du Plessis looks the type to ‘do a JB Hansen’ and finally crawl over the line, as the Dane did in Joburg in 2020.

The 26-year-old has been banging his head against the winning line for a few years now, with many of his multiple top-five finishes having genuine potential to bring home the trophy instead of glancing at it.

6th at both runnings of the South African Open in Covid 2020, to Branden Grace and then Bez, he recorded a host of top-20 finishes at Challenge Tour level (including three top fives) before qualifying for the DP World Tour off the back of an 18th place at the Grand Final.

2021 ended well, with his three home visits, including 7th in Joburg and third in his home Open, suggesting a good year, and for more evidence he ended his first full DP season with five top-10s.

Unlike his more obvious compatriots, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen, Du Plessis was a surprise call-up to the LIV Golf series, but he hardly let himself down in his brief spell, running-up to the 2011 Masters champion at LIV London.

After his season-ending top-10 behind Jon Rahm in Spain (third at halfway), Du Plessis followed a steady 33rd at Houghton with an improved and closing top-10 at Blair Atholl last week when his game was in acceptable shape in preparation for this week’s test.

Whilst length is somewhat negated around Leopard Creek’s twisting fairways, huge hitter Adrian Meronk finished joint runner-up here two years ago (look at him go now!) and Du Plessis should be able to club down on many of the tee-shots and take advantage of his tee-to-green play – a factor for which he ranked in ninth place through the DP season.

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Wilco Nieneber E/W (1/4 5 Places)

With players catching the eye much earlier than in previous generations, it’s hard to believe that Wilco Nienaber is just 22 years of age.

It’s a tough thing to say that this former amateur star should have won the 2020 Joburg Open, as it was surely only inexperience that cost him the trophy against a determined JB Hansen. Whilst hugely talented, the former world amateur ranked 28 has become frustrating, winning just once and that at the lower-level co-sanctioned event, the Dimension Data, in the Western Cape, although an event the likes of Nick Price, Retief Goosen, Darren Clarke and Oosthuizen, amongst others, have won.

Still, back to what he can do today and going forward.

Another huge hitter off the tee, Nienaber has been 18th and ninth in tee-to-green over the last two tournaments, finishing in 24th and 15th but in far better position through the events (10th at halfway in Joburg and 5th into Payday last weekend). Whilst last week’s test was right up his long-driving alley, that should have been a perfect warm-up for an event at which he’s improved to finish 24th and 12th in 2019 and 2020.

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Adrian Otaegui E/W (1/4 5 Places)

Adrian Otaegui has always been a tee-to-green machine, and whilst he already had three trophies in the cabinet, his six-stroke victory at Valderrama was a revelation.

It’s not as if the Spaniard was in poor form, having arrived in Sotogrande off the back off just one missed-cut in 11 starts, including a third place in Scotland and 13th at Wentworth and Le Golf National, interesting comparisons to this week’s venue. However, when recording figures of first in approaches, second for tee-to-green and second in putting, Otaegui not only took his form to a new level but showed his strength against adversity.

The Spaniard became the first ex-LIV plater to win a ‘proper’ event, overcoming a bizarre attitude from the organising tour, who ignored much of his outstanding play and refused to cover any of the highlights on their social media pages.

I can certainly forgive a moderate effort the following week in Mallorca, but the 30-year-old has performed well of late, finishing 18th at the Nedbank (in seventh place going into Sunday), 16th at the DP World Tour Championship (11th at halfway) and dropping away from 8th overnight to 23rd at Joburg.

Take away the home contingent and Spaniards almost dominate recent runnings of the Alfred Dunhill, with Alvaro Quiros, Pablo Martin (x2) and Pablo Larrazabal winning here since 2006. Otaegui can make a good run at making it the nap hand.

I’m waiting for the right moment to back Joost Luiten, showing some tremendous play but only in spurts, whilst the likes of Tom McKibbin and Alejandro Del Rey are players I’ll have in the list of ‘follows’ through 2023. For the final selection, let’s go big!

Christiaan Maas is a young South African player that has been on the ‘watch’ list for a couple of years. His brilliant amateur career saw him rank a best of 19th and awarded him the Brabazon Trophy, the prestigious national amateur stroke-play event, as well as some of his homelands most valued events.

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Casey Jarvis E/W (1/4 5 Places)

However, it is hard to understand how he rates 50 points shorter than his amateur rival, Casey Jarvis, who has recently shown he can compete with the legends of the game, leading George Coetzee at the South African PGA Championship before succumbing into second and following that up with a top-10 at Joburg.

Following a stellar junior career, the 19-year-old won four of the best home amateur events in 2020, beating the best that South African golf could throw at him – including Mass – as he won the African Amateur Stroke Play in back-to-back years.

Maas took revenge on the development tour – the Big Easy – but Jarvis was back on the winner’s rostrum in July this year, and recent form suggests it might be better sticking with him this week.

A 63 in the second round in Joburg was matched only by multiple winner Daniel Van Tonder, and was one shot ahead of Bezuidenhout, so the game is there for all to see.

Jarvis missed the cut on the number when making his debut here in 2020, but the following week improved throughout the week to finish 25th behind Bez at the Gary Player Country Club. That is promising enough without much of what has gone on since, and it might pay to be on at big prices in better fields, before both he and Maas start mopping up the lesser home events.

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