Our man takes a detailed look at the first event on the European Tour in 2013. What will it take to win the Volvo Golf Champions?
"A short links style course should be right up multiple winner Hoey’s street and at a huge price in a limited field event; I’m more than happy to take a tiny chance."
Paul Casey edged out Miguel Angel Jimenez and Peter Hanson to win the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions event in Bahrain in 2011. The event was then moved to South Africa because of the Arab Spring and last year's renewal at Fancourt produced an even tighter finish, with Branden Grace beating Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a playoff.
It's a reduced field event with only 33 entrants and no cut, restricted to the 2012 European Tour winners, past winners of this event and under-50's with 10 or more lifetime European Tour wins only.
Durban Country Club, Durban, South Africa
Par 72, 6732 yards
Stroke index at South African Open in 2010 - 71.08
Designed by George Waterman and Lawrie B Waters and opened in 1922, the Durban Country Club overlooks the Blue Lagoon estuary and the Indian Ocean. It's a very short (by modern standards) links course with fairly tight landing areas on the fairways and ultra dwarf Mini Verde Bermuda greens. Built on dunes, six holes (1, 2, 3, 4, 17 & 18) have extremely undulating fairways. Accuracy is most definitely the key requisite and Greens In Regulation is the stat to consider.
Most recently, RDCC hosted the South African Open in 2010, 2005, 2002 and 1998 and it's also been the venue for the Suncoast Classic on the Sunshine Tour since its inception in 2006.
If you want to get a further feel for the course, this five minute video clip on the course's official website is worth a peak.
Live on Sky at 11.00am, all four days, starting Thursday
First Two Winners
2012 - Branden Grace -12 (playoff)
2011 - Paul Casey -20
What will it take to win the Volvo Golf Champions?
Els was ranked number one for Greens In Regulation in 2010 and 20th for Driving Accuracy and when Durbanite, Tim Clark, won with ease in 2002 and 2005, he ranked 2nd for Greens In Regulation and inside the top-10 for Driving Accuracy on both occasions. This is not a place to hit it anywhere off the tee and neat and tidy iron-play is what gets rewards at Durban Country Club.
Is there an angle in?
A look at the result of the 2010 South African Open speaks volumes. Els won with a score of -25, Goosen was a shot further back in 2nd and Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel finished 3rd and 4th, so the cream most certainly rose to the top. Els also won here in 1998, beating David Frost by three and the remainder by seven! Although this is a stronger field than those that contested the South African Opens, those familiar with this tricky venue will enjoy a significant advantage over those that aren't and I wouldn't in the least bit be surprised if a South African is holding the trophy aloft come Sunday.
South African Challenge
South Africans enjoy a big advantage whenever they play on home soil and on a quirky little track like this, that advantage is even greater, so a close examination of each home challenger makes sense.
Market leader, Louis Oosthuizen, has all the right attributes for the course so it's no surprise that he already has course form in the bank, having finished 12th here in 2005 and 3rd in 2010. You can completely disregard his performance last time out when he withdrew from the Alfred Dunhill Championship with an eye infection. Although he was already tailed off when he pulled out, he has a terrible record at Leopard Creek anyway and if he hits the ground running he's almost certain to contend but can he be trusted to convert? Not at just [6.0].
Reigning Open champ, Ernie Els, talks positively about the year ahead in his blog this week and he could well get off the mark here. With form figures reading 10-1-13-1, his record at Durban CC is by some distance the best on display but his detractors will point to his poor win ratio nowadays and quickly dismiss him at such a short price.
Branden Grace is priced up about right at [15.5] but we don't yet know how he'll cope with defending a title and this track might be a bit tight off the tee.
Retief Goosen is returning from a long absence following back surgery last August but he could be the surprise package. He was runner-up to Ernie here in 2010 and 5th in the 2002 South African Open and I'd be surprised if he'd be starting if he wasn't right.
And finally, Darren Fichardt won the Suncoast Classic in 2011 but then missed the cut when defending and JBE Kruger is out of form and has never fared well here, in three attempts.
As is often the case at low-scoring venues, up with the pace has been the best place to be in the past, so concentrate your efforts on the leaders from early on.
For in-running trading purposes, the final hole is a drivable par 4 that ranked the easiest on the course in 2010, averaging just 3.42 - there were 16 eagles there throughout the week. It's that short there's even a hole-in-one prize this week - a great big Volvo lorry!
The par 5's, holes 3, 8, 10 and 14 were the four next easiest holes and although the notorious par 3 12th hole looks daunting to mere mortals, it actually averaged under-par in 2010. The tough holes are the 5th, 11th and 16th.
In what looks an intriguing puzzle, nobody particularly inspires before the off and I'm going to concentrate my efforts in-running.
I managed to get a small amount matched on Ernie at [10.5] when the market was in its infancy though and although I toyed with laying my wager back for an even smaller free bet, I've decided to keep it. And my only other pre-event play is a very modest one on Michael Hoey at [160.0].
Hoey withdrew from the Alfred Dunhill Championship with a back injury when last sighted but played it down afterwards, saying he wasn't too bad and that he withdrew because he didn't want to hold up his playing partners. A short links style course should be right up multiple winner Hoey's street but he's already been here before a couple of times and struggled.
Although he didn't shine, he may well have learned a lot from the experience and at a huge price in a limited field event; I'm more than happy to take a tiny chance.
Ernie Els @ [10.5]
Michael Hoey @ [160.0]
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter