Steve takes a detailed look at this week's European tour action from South Africa where he fancies last week's winner, Danny Willett, to put in another bold show. Read his final European Tour preview of 2014 here...
“I was extremely impressed by Danny Willett at the Nedbank Challenge last week and he could very easily go in again, just like Jordan Spieth has done over the last few weeks.”
Co-sanctioned between the Sunshine and European Tours, the Alfred Dunhill Championship was first staged in 2000 at Houghton Golf Club, Johannesburg. Anthony Wall won the inaugural event with Adam Scott and Justin Rose winning the next two. After five editions, the tournament moved to Leopard Creek.
Leopard Creek Country Club, Malelane, South Africa
Par 72, 7287 yards
Stroke index in 2013 - 72.88
Set on the edge of the Kruger National park, the spectacular Gary Player designed Leopard Creek opened in 1996. The signature hole is the par 5 13th, which has a green that overlooks Crocodile River, but that's far from the only highlight - the course is visually stunning from start to finish.
The cameramen frequently catch sight of leopard, impala, crocodile and many other species and Harry the Hippo is always a hit - he resides in the lake adjacent to the 16th hole. Leopard Creek is a visually stunning and interesting venue and regardless of the result, the Alfred Dunhill Championship is an event I always enjoy watching.
The tees are Bermuda, the fairways and rough are Kikuyu and the greens (running at 12 on the stimpmeter) are Creeping Bent (Crenshaw + A1). The fairways are undulating and lined with natural bush and trees, and water is in-play on a number of holes.
Darren Fichardt, Nicholas Lawrence, Hennie Otto and Andrew McLardy all won the Sunshine Tour's Tour Championship here soon after the turn of the century.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - behind the red button from 8:30 on Thursday and Friday and on Sky Sports 4 from 13:30 on Thursday and Friday afternoon, then behind the red button from 10:30 on Saturday and live on Sky Sports 4 from 13:30, and finally, live on Sky Sports 4 on Sunday from 11:00.
Last Five Winners
2012 - Charl Schwartzel -17
2012 - Charl Schwartzel -24
2011 - Garth Mulroy -19
2010 - Pablo Martin -11
2009 - Pablo Martin -19
What Will it Take to Win The Alfred Dunhill Championship?
Charl Schwartzel ranked fourth for driving distance when winning 12 months ago but length off the tee is by no means an essential prerequisite. Garth Mulroy ranked just 69th in 2011 and the majority of winners rank outside the top-20 for DD. Accuracy off the tee is slightly more important with the last six winners averaging 16th for driving accuracy and it is possible to win here without ranking highly for greens in regulation - Spain's Pablo Martin has won the title twice despite ranking just 33rd and 41st for greens hit.
I don't have complete stats for Mulroy in 2011 but the other five winners over the last six years have all ranked inside the top-10 for putting and the top-three for scrambling so it's quite clear what's required, a great short game and a red-hot putter.
Is There an Angle In?
I haven't got anything concrete here, more just a few musings. From a course correlation perspective, a number of players have played well here that have previously played well at Oceånico Victoria, home of the Portugal Masters and the same can be said of Celtic Manor, home of the now defunct Wales Open and it might be worth keeping an eye on those new to the European Tour.
Alvaro Quiros won here soon after graduating from the Challenge Tour and a number of players have placed here just weeks after gaining their European Tour cards. Maybe we're due another graduate winner?
The two most promising players in the field this week are probably England's Matt Fitzpatrick and 17-year-old Italian Renato Peratore. I haven't backed either (you can't back then all!) but I'll be hoping to see them play and they're definitely players to look to for the future.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Schwartzel has won here three times, Martin has tasted victory twice and Ernie Els should have done. He won the event in 2005 and traded at 1.011/100 two years later before throwing the event away at the 72nd hole, so course form stands up well.
Schwartzel was inside the front four after round one and in front by halfway in each of the last two years but prior to that, a number of winners have started slowly. Mulroy trailed by five after round one and by six at halfway when he won and in the seven years before Mulroy won every winner was at least three off the lead through round one. Schwartzel trailed by five in 2004, Ernie by seven in 2005 and Quiros was six adrift in 2006 so don't give up hope if your selections start slowly.
The third round leader has converted in four of the last five years but the first five winners here were all trailing by at least two strokes and three of them, Quiros, John Bickerton and Richard Sterne, all won from four back with a round to go. It's quite clear that you can come from off the pace here so if the leaders look vulnerable they might be worth taking on.
The 7th and the 9th are tough holes but the front-nine is easier than the back nine and last year, the par 4 14th and 17th ranked the hardest holes on the course - both averaging 4.25. The final hole is reachable par 5 with an island green but that can create late drama - as we witnessed with Ernie back in 2007.
Charl Schwartzel's record here is simply sensational. In addition to his three wins, he's also finished runner-up three times and I'd hate to put anyone off him if they thought he was a decent price but after watching him play last week at the Nedbank I can't possibly back him.
So bad was he hitting the ball that he even sought help from Gary Player midway through the tournament but it didn't help. Form is temporary and class is permanent is the often trawled out phrase and he probably wouldn't have to be at his tip-top best to win but he played too badly for me to back him here, even given his course form.
Louis Oosthuizen has a fine record in his homeland and he's not in bad form at present but since finishing second here in the S.A Tour Championship in 2004 and in this event a year later, he's played awfully here. He missed the event 12 months ago, withdrew after three rounds in 2012 when not in-contention and prior to that he missed the cut five years in-a-row. That isn't encouraging and I have to leave him out at a single-figure price.
I was extremely impressed by Danny Willett at the Nedbank Challenge last week and he could very easily go in again, just like Spieth has done over the last few weeks. He has improving, if not spectacular, form figures at Leopard Creek that read 37th (2008), 18th (2012) and 9th (2013) so he's going the right way. He's probably priced up about right but I think he'll go well again.
Nobody really grabs me here. I've had a small bet on Danny Willett as I fancy him to pick up from where he left off on Sunday but the price is about what I'd expected. Had he been a couple of points bigger my bet would have been larger but I'm not sure I'm getting much value at 10/1 so stakes are modest. And after that, I've just chanced some outsiders for small stakes and first up is Challenge Tour graduate, Benjamin Hebert.
The Frenchman won three times on the Challenge Tour in 2011 to gain his European Tour playing privileges but a disappointing season in 2012 saw him relegated straight back down again. It's not at all unusual to see someone struggle the first time they play the European Tour and following another three Challenge Tour victories this year, he will return to the bigger stage mentally stronger and more battle-hardened.
Winning six times on the Challenge Tour is a feat not many achieve so the 27-year-old knows how to get the job done and in an event that graduates fare well in, siding with one that's graduating for a second time makes sense to me. Especially given he's a tasty price and his most recent form figures read 7-1-2-MC-1-MC-3-37-1.
When Richard Sterne, a winner here, played in the Italian Open at Royal Park I Roveri he described the course as having a distinctly South African feel to it and in 2012, Gartj Mulroy, another winner here, came up agonisingly close there after I'd backed him on the strength of Sterne's comments at a huge price, finishing second to an inspired Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
Twelve months earlier, Robert Rock, with three top-10s here between 2008 and 2010 won at Royal Park I Roveri and his only top-20 finish anywhere this season was at Celtic Manor. He isn't in the greatest of form but if he can find something, this venue suits his game and he too was backed at 110.0109/1.
Michael Hoey is a player I'm always happy to throw a few pounds at a huge price, and I'm extra keen this week as he's just become a father for the second time. I've written before about the 'Nappy Factor' and how I consider it to be a positive so this was just another tick in the box for me. Hoey must have seen something he liked here because he keeps coming back. He withdrew ill last year and if memory serves he withdrew injured in 2011 so I'm hoping its third time lucky for the prolific Irishman.
And finally, from just about as far out in leftfield as it gets, I've also thrown a few pounds at Norway's Espen Kofstad who returned to the fray after a lengthy injury break to regain his card at Tour School last month and he'll be chomping at the bit to be back competing again now fully fit.
Danny Willet @ 10/1 on the Sportsbook
Benjamin Hebert @ 110.0109/1
Robert Rock @ 110.0109/1
Michael Hoey @ 160.0159/1
Espen Kofstad @ 400.0399/1
I'll be back later today with my preview for the Thailand Golf Championship.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter