An in-depth preview and best bets for the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in South Africa.
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 12/12/12 11:36am
Situated near Malelane on the southern border of the Kruger National Park, Leopard Creek is regarded by many pros as the number one golf course in South Africa.
It's hosting this week's Alfred Dunhill Championship for the eighth time and previous winners have ranged from the big-hitting Alvaro Quiros in 2005 to the steady John Bickerton in 2007. Those eight winners comprise four South Africans, three Spaniards and one Englishman.
Sightings of crocodile, hippo, antelope, buffalo and wild boar are commonplace, either on the course itself or in or next to the river running alongside several holes. The 552-yard par five 13th is one of Leopard Creek's most memorable holes. Here the green is right on the edge of the Crocodile river but 35 yards above the level of the water, offering magnificent views up the river and into the Kruger Park. The par five 18th with its island green provides a memorable finish while the par four 9th has a peninsula green jutting out of the same body of water.
After the first two days were wiped out at Royal Durban, all involved will have a close eye on this week's forecast. It suggests an unsettled build-up and a chance of rain in Thursday's opening round. Friday should be okay but t-storms are forecast for Saturday. Sunday should be sunny while temperatures all week range from 15 to 18 degrees.
Last year - Garth Mulroy
Two clear overnight, Mulroy was caught twice in the final round, first by Jbe Kruger at the second and later by George Murray at the 15th. But while Murray parred his way in, Mulroy birdied the 15th and 16th - the latter with a 60 foot downhill putt - which with two closing pars gave him a four-under 68 and a winning total of 19-under.
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Charl Schwartzel (4/1): The South African was simply sensational in Thailand last week as he produced one of golf's very rare feats - a winning margin in double digits. Schwartzel's victory had been coming after a string of near misses but no-one quite envisaged him breaking his 20-month win drought with an 11-shot demolition. To add to his already obvious credentials this week, this venue/tournament was the scene of his first ever European Tour win when he took the title in 2004. Since then he's finished runner-up four times at Leopard Creek so this is a course on which he thrives.
Current form: 1-2-3-5
Course form: 2-2-14-MC
World ranking: 23
Louis Oosthuizen (6/1): The other South African major winner in the field has shown bags of high-class consistency in the last couple of months with six top six finishes on the bounce. A week off should have done him some good after he suffered with stomach cramps in the Nedbank Challenge although his form here is bafflingly poor. Although he was runner-up in 2005 and also second at Leopard Creek in the Sunshine Tour's 2004 Tour Championship, his last five starts in this event have all produced missed cuts. On the plus side though, he's won two of the last three European Tour events he's contested on home South African soil.
Current form: 4-5-2-6
Course form: MC-MC-MC-MC
World ranking: 5
George Coetzee (14/1): The wait goes on for a first European Tour win for the hugely talented Coetzee. Last week's 39th can be pretty much ignored given that the event was reduced to 36 holes so a better pointer could be his runners-up finish in the South African Open last month. The 26-year-old, who finished 26th on the 2012 Race To Dubai, was also third in this event last year so it's an obvious venue for him to make that long-awaited big breakthrough. He was also 11th and 13th in two visits to Royal Park in Italy (see right-hand column for form link).
Current form: 39-26-2-14
Course form: 3-MC-45-18
World ranking: 49
Branden Grace (18/1): It's a case of 'follow that' for Grace, who went from Q-School hopeful to four-time European Tour winner after a sensational 2012 season. Even though this now the second event of the 2013 Race To Dubai, it's still the same calendar year so Grace will hope the magic hasn't worn off. The 24-year-old from Pretoria has won three of his last seven events on home South African soil although his record at Leopard Creek is notably poor - three missed cuts and a 53rd in his four appearances.
Current form: 39-6-65-62
Course form: MC-MC-53-MC
World ranking: 36
Jaco Van Zyl (22/1): It's not often you go into the event on the back of a 57 in your last competitive round but that's the case with Van Zyl this week after his stunning effort at the Nelson Mandela Championship. Of course, it didn't go into the record books after the course was altered to a par 65 after parts of the drenched course were unplayable but it's still a feather in his cap and he should be in high spirits. Before that Van Zyl was runner-up in the Sunshine Tour's Cape Town Open while he was third here last year, improving on his previous best of eighth in 2005. Yet to win on the European Tour so this offers a good chance.
Course form: 8-2-33-10
Current form: 3-MC-45-57
World ranking: 146
Thomas Aiken (25/1): Unlike Coetzee and Van Zyl, who are both shorter than him in the betting, Aiken does have a European Tour win to his name after landing the Open de Espana last year. It hasn't really acted as a springboard to further success although we saw his obvious ability at the recent South African Open when he finished third and topped the greens in regulation stats, hitting 87.5% in the right number. He's made the top five here twice in the last four years and in 2008 he fired a sensational 61 (still the course record) to hold the lead going into the final round.
Course form: MC-42-3-MC
Current form: MC-5-MC-4
World ranking: 110
Best of the rest
Pablo Larrazabal (33/1): The Spaniard described Leopard Creek on Twitter this week as "the best golf track we play world wide" so he'll relish his return to the course. Eighth in Hong Kong recently and fifth in September's Italian Open at Royal Park whose form lines have been linked to this week's venue.
Hennie Otto (50/1): The 36-year-old South African fits the bill of course specialist after a superb run of form at Leopard Creek. Including Sunshine Tour as well as co-sanctioned European Tour events he can boast a win, a second and four other top 10s in his last 11 appearances. Ninth in the recent South African Open suggests his game is in good shape.
Eduardo De La Riva (50/1): Spaniards have a fine record in this event so De La Riva has to enter equations on the back of his recent form. In the last few weeks he's finished fourth in the Challenge Tour Grand Final, come through qualifying school and lost a play-off at last week's Nelson Mandela Championship.
Having won back-to-back in January 2010 (Joburg Open and Africa Open), Charl Schwartzel has shown he can ride the wave after a victory.
And he was simply so superior to his rivals last week that it's difficult to ignore him here, even at 9/2.
The extra travelling he's done recently is probably wiped out by the fact he's playing on home South African soil and his phonemenal course record here puts another huge tick in the box.The advice is to keep him onside and add in a couple of bigger priced each-way tips.
Hennie Otto is a recent winner of a co-sanctioned event on his home turf having landed the 2011 South African Open.
That will given him the confidence to win another one here and his course record (see above) is excellent. He even has the cross-course form with Royal Park having finished seventh there in 2010 and 22nd this year (another top 10 ruined by a couple of poor holes).
Add in a ninth at the recent South African Open and a seventh at the Cape Town Open and he's got plenty going for him at 50/1.
The fine record of Spaniards here is worth noting and the form horse in this week's Spanish armada is Eduardo De La Riva.
He hasn't done much in his career up to now but he's still only 30 years old and looks to have his best days in front of him.
After a superb run of results, this is the time to catch him.