Volvo Champs guide
A preview and stats ahead of this week's Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club in South Africa.
By Dave Tindall Twitter: @DaveTindallgolf
Last Updated: 08/01/14 9:54am
The European Tour returns this week when a select field of 36 pros tee up at the Volvo Champions event in South Africa.
For the second year in a row, the tournament is being staged at Durban Country Club where the winner will collect a cheque for around £425k.
The course, which rests close to South Africa's east coast, has been in existence for over 90 years.
It combines lush vegetation, with sand dunes and some great views of the nearby Indian Ocean while monkeys can often be seen wandering around the course.
Durban Country Club has staged the South African Open 17 times during its illustrious history, including the centenary championship of 2010.
On all six previous occasions that this course has held a co-sanctioned event on the European Tour, the winner has come from the host country.
The weather forecast is excellent for all four days, the official website predicting "beautifully warm temperatures".
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Charl Schwartzel (11/4): His odds look unappealing but are probably fair enough given that he's won three of his last nine starts on home soil (he's finished in the top six in five of the others). The 2011 Masters champion also has course form having finished runner-up at Durban in the 2005 South African Open and sixth in the 2010 running. As for latest form, in three December starts he finished first, sixth and fourth, the first two of those on home soil.
Jamie Donaldson (10/1): The Welshman ended 2013 with two runners-up finishes in this final three appearances. He was second in the inaugural Turkish Airlines Open in November and last month, on South African soil, occupied the same position in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. He's played this course twice before, finishing 15th way back in the 2002 South African Open and 16th in this tournament last year.
Louis Oosthuizen (12/1): Having shot a closing 66 to come from five behind Scot Jamieson and win this event last year, you'd expect Oosthuizen to be challenging Schwartzel for favouritism. But he's been hampered by back problems for some time and missed chunks of the 2013 campaign after resting and having cortisone injections. If his fitness could be guaranteed he'd have a big, big chance as, along with his win last year, he was also third in the 2010 South African Open at this venue and 12th in 2005. The 2010 Open champ has also won three of his last six starts on home South African soil.
Thomas Bjorn (12/1): Any notions that his three-win season in 2011 was a last hurrah were put to bed with two more victories in 2013. The 42-year-old Dane landed a 14th European Tour title by winning the Omega European Masters in Switzerland and made it 15 with victory in the revamped Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa a month ago. There he topped the greens in reg stats so, add that to his wonderful short game, and it's easy to see why he's still capable of racking up plenty more wins. Bjorn finished ninth here last year.
Joost Luiten (18/1): The Dutchman is coming off a two-win season - the second of those his home KLM Open in September - and is now 4/1 to make it onto Europe's Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles. He was 16th in December's Nedbank on his last visit to South Africa and before that was fourth in Dubai. Ahead of his debut at this course, he said on Twitter: "3 days of good practicing and preparing with @philallengolf game feels good!! Look forward to first event of the year next week!!!"
Branden Grace (20/1): The other likely South African winner this week has been nicknamed the 'Volvo King' after his win in this event and also the Volvo China Open in his memorable four-win season in 2012. As you might expect he's found it hard to follow that amazing campaign but there are a couple of good signs for him going into this week. First, he finished sixth in the Nelson Mandela Championship on his most recent start last month while he overcame a first-round 75 at this track last year to finish tied seventh.
FORM in SOUTH AFRICA
Co-sanctioned European Tour events since January 1st, 2013
Player: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8
Thomas Aiken: - / 6 / 12 / MC / 17 / MC / - / 35
Kiradech Aphibarnrat: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Thomas Bjorn: 9 / - / - / - / - / - / Won / -
Paul Casey: 18 / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Darren Clarke: 22 / - / - / 63 / - / - / - / -
Jamie Donaldson: 16 / - / - / - / - / - / 2 / -
Victor Dubuisson: - / - / - / - / - / - / 20 / -
Gonzalo F'dez-Castano: 20 / - / - / - / - / - / 11 / -
Darren Fichardt: 29 / 25 / Won / 2 / 37 / MC / 12 / 50
Tommy Fleetwood: - / 14 / 49 / - / - / - / - / -
Stephen Gallacher: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Branden Grace: 7 / MC / - / - / - / - / 20 / 6
Padraig Harrington: 4 / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Michael Hoey: 25 / - / - / MC / MC / Ret / - / 50
David Howell: - / - / - / 10 / - / - / - / -
Mikko Ilonen: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Raphael Jacquelin: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Jin Jeong: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Miguel Angel Jimenez: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Robert Karlsson: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Joost Luiten: - / - / 49 / 27 / - / - / 16 / -
David Lynn: - / - / - / - / - / - / 25 / -
Morten Orum Madsen: - / MC / 20 / 8 / Won / 16 / 25 / -
Matteo Manassero: 9 / - / - / - / - / - / 22 / -
Colin Montgomerie: 29 / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Jose Maria Olazabal: 32 / - / - / 76 / - / - / - / -
Louis Oosthuizen: Won / - / - / - / - / - / 14 / -
Julien Quesne: 5 / - / - / MC / - / - / - / -
Brett Rumford: - / - / 12 / - / - / - / - / -
Charl Schwartzel: - / 2 / - / - / 4 / Won / 6 / -
Marcel Siem: 26 / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Richard Sterne: - / Won / - / - / - / MC / 14 / -
Simon Thornton: - / - / - / - / 59 / MC / - / MC
Peter Uihlein: - / 19 / - / 4 / - / - / 10 / -
Dawie Van Der Walt: - / MC / MC / Won / MC / MC / 24 / Won
Chris Wood: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Key: 1 - Durban *; 2 - Royal Johannesburg & Kensington; 3 - East London; 4 - Copperleaf; 5 - Glendower; 6 - Leopard Creek; 7 - Sun City; 8 - Mount Edgecombe
* - This week's venue
MOST TOP-10 FINISHES in SOUTH AFRICA
(At co-sanctioned European Tour events since start of 2008)
15: Charl Schwartzel
8: Thomas Aiken
8: Branden Grace
7: Richard Sterne
6: Louis Oosthuizen
5: Dawie Van Der Walt
4: Darren Fichardt
3: Morten Orum Madsen
LAST 10 TOURNAMENTS WEEKS on EUROPEAN TOUR
Player: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10
Thomas Aiken: 38 / - / 61 / - / 15 / 55 / 17 / MC / - / 35
Kiradech Aphibarnrat: - / - / - / 55 / 54 / 29 / - / - / - / -
Thomas Bjorn: 57 / - / 5 / 39 / 18 / 21 / - / - / Won / -
Paul Casey: - / MC / 8 / 20 / 12 / 54 / - / - / - / -
Darren Clarke: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Jamie Donaldson: 6 / - / 34 / 8 / 2 / 8 / - / - / 2 / -
Victor Dubuisson: 17 / - / 44 / - / Won / 3 / - / - / 20 / -
Gonzalo F'dez-Castano: 57 / - / Won / 39 / - / 37 / - / - / 11 / -
Darren Fichardt: - / - / 24 / 61 / 15 / 21 / 37 / MC / 12 / 50
Tommy Fleetwood: 26 / - / 34 / 18 / 36 / 37 / - / - / - / -
Stephen Gallacher: 3 / - / 53 / 63 / 25 / 34 / - / - / - / -
Branden Grace: - / 43 / 61 / 39 / 29 / 52 / - / - / 20 / 6
Padraig Harrington: - / - / 27 / - / 50 / - / - / - / - / -
Michael Hoey: MC / 18 / - / - / - / - / MC / Ret / - / 50
David Howell: 51 / - / 61 / 70 / 44 / 34 / - / - / - / -
Mikko Ilonen: - / - / 48 / 21 / - / 19 / - / - / - / -
Raphael Jacquelin: 63 / - / 48 / 73 / 5 / 44 / - / - / - / -
Jin Jeong: - / Won / - / 18 / - / - / - / - / - / -
Miguel Angel Jimenez: 57 / - / 60 / 72 / 70 / 8 / - / - / Won / -
Robert Karlsson: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Joost Luiten: 51 / - / Ret / - / 18 / 4 / - / - / 16 / -
David Lynn: Won / - / - / 39 / 36 / 42 / - / - / 25 / -
Morten Orum Madsen: 51 / - / - / - / 63 / - / Won / 16 / 25 / -
Matteo Manassero: MC / - / - / 21 / 44 / 21 / - / - / 22 / -
Colin Montgomerie: - / - / - / - / 63 / - / - / - / - / -
Jose Maria Olazabal: MC / - / - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Louis Oosthuizen: - / - / 59 / 15 / 67 / 32 / - / - / 14 / -
Julien Quesne: 46 / - / 34 / - / 12 / 47 / - / - / - / -
Brett Rumford: - / 6 / 15 / 76 / 72 / 47 / - / - / - / -
Charl Schwartzel: - / - / - / - / 29 / - / 4 / Won / 6 / -
Marcel Siem: 17 / - / 34 / - / 41 / 39 / - / - / - / -
Richard Sterne: - / - / 31 / 39 / 36 / 14 / - / MC / 14 / -
Simon Thornton: 8 / - / - / - / - / - / 59 / MC / - / MC
Peter Uihlein: - / - / 5 / 55 / 57 / 51 / - / - / 10 / -
Dawie Van Der Walt: MC / MC / - / - / - / - / MC / MC / 24 / Won
Chris Wood: 26 / - / 75 / 39 / 15 / 29 / - / - / - / -
Key: 1 - Portugal Masters; 2 - Perth International; 3 - BMW Masters*; 4 - HSBC Champions*; 5 - Turkish Airlines Open*; 6 - DP World Championship*; 7 - South African Open; 8 - Alfred Dunhill Championship; 9 - Nedbank Challenge / Hong Kong Open; 10 - Nelson Mandela Ch'ship
* - Part of Final Series
LOWEST ROUNDS in LAST YEAR'S VOLVO CHAMPIONS
64: Scott Jamieson (2nd round)
64: Louis Oosthuizen (2nd round)
Durban Country Club: Par 72; 6,689 yards
Winning Totals (Last Three Times on European Tour):
2013: 272 (Louis Oosthuizen - Volvo Champions)
2010: 263 (Ernie Els - South African Open)
2005: 273 (Tim Clark - South African Open)
The stats suggest another home South African win so with Schwartzel such a short price and Oosthuizen still coming back from injury it looks best to side with Branden Grace at 20/1.
He produced some decent golf at the back end of 2013 and feels positive that everything will click in a big way again soon.
As a proven winner, he certainly won't back off if he gets in contention.
Like Grace, Paul Casey is a former winner of this event having won the inaugural running in Bahrain in 2011 while he closed with three successive 69s on this course last year.
Three of his last five European Tour wins have come in January so he's a player who appears to relish wiping the slate clean and coming out of the blocks fast.
To add to that feeling of a new start and looking ahead to a bright future he also got engaged to girlfriend Pollyanna Woodward over the festive period.
Casey admits he is "loving golf and loving life" again and he has a very clear goal in front of him in these early months of the season - to improve his world ranking from 87th to something inside the top 50 so he can book a return to his beloved Augusta for The Masters.
At his best, the Englishman - a 12-time European Tour winner - could make his odds of 25/1 look very tasty.
Thomas Bjorn is a definite threat but, at the odds, multiple winners Grace and Casey get the nod.
2.5pts e.w. Branden Grace at 20/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4)
2.5pts e.w. Paul Casey at 25/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4)