*Each-Way 1/4 odds, 5 places
Following his graduation from the Challenge Tour, Thomas Detry starts his first European Tour season this week, but the youngster is no ordinary graduate. Detry has a big reputation and earned his card in just 14 starts, one of which saw him win by an astonishing 12 shots. Although it would have been harsh on Nicolas Colsaerts, I was a little surprised his great friend Thomas Pieters didn't select him for the World Cup. Nevertheless, more time to prepare for this week means the World Cup's loss could be our gain.
This event usually goes to a high-class South African and, while the front-two look extremely strong, Richard Sterne should not be written off either. Champion at Leopard Creek in 2008 and thrice a top-11 finisher since, Sterne was showing signs in Europe of returning to his best towards the end of the season. Finishing runner-up in the classy Dunhill Links and ninth at the British Masters represents a very competitive level of form compared to what looks like a weak renewal. Should either Charl Schwartzel or Branden Grace falter - and neither has been bombproof of late - Sterne is well capable of taking advantage.
The two big names at the top of the betting have won this event for the last four seasons, and let's face it one of them will probably do it again this year. But those prices will not do for this column and so it is that we must pick from further down the field in search of bigger odds. My man for the opening event of the 2017 season is rising talent Dylan Frittelli, who secured his European Tour card via the Challenge Tour in early November, and followed up with eighth in the Cape Town Open last week. The 26-year-old has improved year-on-year at Leopard Creek, finishing 11th last time round, and has a chance of reaching the top five or better in a week when he will arrive in buoyant mood.
England's Eddie Pepperell has had a turbulent month or so. Having sat tied for second after shooting 64 in round one of the Portugal Masters he somehow missed the cut after double bogeying the 18th hole in round two, to subsequently lose his European Tour card. That was a devastating and shocking blow but to his credit, he brushed himself down and regained it again at the Tour School a fortnight ago. I fancy the whole experience will stand him in good stead going forward and according to his must-read blog, he sounds quite confident as he begins to rebuild his career. "I'm heading to Leopard Creek. My girlfriend will do her annual duty of carrying the bag, and her daily duty of keeping me happy. I came 8th last year, playing at times like a bit of a buffoon. The way I'm feeling now, I hope for much better..."
It's not often you'll get me swaying away from the locals when a tournament is held in the Rainbow Nation but I'm willing to take a flyer on Alexander Bjork this week in the hope that he's not one of the Challenge Tour graduate's Bad Boys (X Factor fans from years gone by might get that one). The 26-year-old Swede didn't make his first appearance of the year until May but he wasted no time in stamping his class on a highly-competitive Tour. Bjork gained his maiden success in July before going on to record 10 successive creditable finishes where his worst result was a T32. He finished inside the top 12 in five of those events and his most recent efforts on the Challenge Tour include a 2nd, 6th, and 7th place finish. In his only event on the main Tour in 2016 he finished a very respectable top 30 at the Nordea Masters, so with confidence booming this weak-field event looks the perfect starting point for Bjork to make an early impact on the European Tour.