Paul Williams' tips for the 2011 Alfred Dunhill Championship.
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A European Tour double-header this week as the Johor Open achieves Euro Tour status for the first time (read Steve Bamford's tips here) and we visit Leopard Creek for the second time in 2011 as the Tour season is finally aligned with the calendar year. In recent seasons the Alfred Dunhill Championship has been the new season curtain-raiser - albeit played in December - however this event, plus the South African Open next week, are being played twice as part of the 2011 season so that the 2012 season can start, well, in 2012 - much more sensible!
Once again we wind our way to the unique safari-cum-golf tournament at the Gary Player designed Leopard Creek golf course in South Africa. The newly extended 7,326 yard par-72 layout (up 77 yards on last year) is being used for the 8th successive year so we have plenty of course history to study, however it always lodges in the memory due to the wildlife which shares the area including crocodiles, lions and the odd hippo thrown in for good measure.
The course itself is tough off the tee and anything approaching 70% driving accuracy is likely to be leading that stat come Sunday night, however the real premium is on handling the slick, undulating bentgrass greens once safely on board. The tournament itself is pretty low-key (and low value) and is shared with the Sunshine Tour, so expect a number of lesser known players to appear on the leaderboard at various points. That, coupled with the fact that a large contingent of European Tour players are heading to Johor, means the field is pretty poor quality and the likes of George Coetzee and Thomas Aiken lead the betting markets as a result.
One point to note is that the weather is unseasonably hot in this part of South Africa at the moment - temperatures are expected to peak on Thursday at around 105° and hover around that mark until the weather breaks on Sunday. Little or no wind is expected for the first 3 days so it may well be pretty uncomfortable for some of those players from northern Europe - in that respect, locals may well be favoured.
My selections for this week:
Coetzee found his way into my 'soon to be winners' list after he took a resurgent Thomas Bjorn to the wire at Gleneagles in August. 5 playoff holes were required for the Dane to finally shake off Coetzee's challenge and the young South African won an awful lot of admirers with his nerveless display as he tried to win his first European Tour title - all of this after shooting a Thursday 77 which made him more likely to miss the cut. It wasn't to be, however Coetzee's time will come and, in a very weak field, that time may well be sooner rather than later.
Don't let the fact that he's yet to win a European Tour event put you off here - he's a four-time winner on the Sunshine Tour so can clearly get the job done, including the prestigious South African PGA Championship earlier this year where he shot a spectacular -27 to triumph. Having gained his card via Q-School for the last 2 seasons, there's no such issue this year as a string of excellent results has propelled Coetzee to a top-30 position in the money list and a guaranteed place in Dubai next month. He finished 3rd in Portugal and 6th in Castellon before taking a break after his missed cut at the claustrophobic Valderrama - a rejuvenated player should emerge this week, keen to gain his maiden victory.
The 25 year old hails from Pretoria, just a few hours drive from Leopard Creek, and the searing heat expected this week will bother George far less than most of the entrants here - I'm expecting a very big week from Coetzee this week, despite the short 14/1 on offer. RESULT: T3
I tipped Kruger at 100/1 at Gleneagles and the South African promptly rewarded me by missing the cut - at the time he sat just inside the top 115 needing a final push to secure his card. The last fortnight has seen this push and with over €100,000 amassed in 2 events Jbe enters this event safe in the knowledge that he'll be playing top-flight golf in 2012. Those 2 results - 23rd in Shanghai and 13th in Singapore - were in far superior company however and Jbe could easily capitalise on a poor field and complete his 2011 with a 3rd professional victory.
Despite limited starts this season outside of the Sunshine Tour where he normally plies his trade, James Barry (hence the 'Jbe') has managed to notch 4 top 10s in Europe this season - all on bentgrass-based putting surfaces and most recently in Italy which will set him in good stead here. The 25 year old's game is centred around strong ironplay and he current sits inside the top 10 European Tour GIR stats with a mightily impressive 75.7% of greens hit in 2011. A decent putting week should see him contend and is well worth a punt at 28/1 in my view. RESULT: T9
Mulroy has just secured his PGA Tour card for 2012 following an excellent season on the Nationwide Tour which saw him take 21st spot on the money list with over $200,000 earned - not bad for 2nd tier golf! Victory in May at the BMW Charity Pro-am contributed more than half of that money and a season-ending form line of 3/18/21/12 was enough to see him through. You'd be forgiven for thinking that this event is simply a distraction then now that he's achieved priority number 1 - well maybe not...
Mulroy's 2nd place in Joburg earlier this season has left him in 2nd place on the Sunshine Tour Order Of Merit and in with a real chance of taking the title with a strong performance this week and next in South Africa, despite having not played a qualifying event since February. Mulroy has a great record in South Africa in recent years - as well as that result in Joburg he also a 3rd place in the SA Open to his name, plus another runners-up finish in Joburg in the last 4 years. 12th at Leopard Creek in 2009 also bodes well - all in all a worthy addition to the team this week. RESULT: Winner
Kamte completes a South African quartet for my selections this week. The diminutive powerhouse has been chalked up at 250/1 with Totesport when he's as short as 100/1 with Hills and clearly there's some dispute over his chances this week. As always, a 250/1 shot is a hugely speculative punt - but one which could prove fruitful in this weak field.
Kamte has a fair record in South Africa-based European Tour events of recent years - 4th in Joburg in 2010 came just a few weeks after a top 20 in this event where a final round 73 was the only thing stopping him notch a much stronger finish. 2011 was largely a washout for the 29 year old until a final round 63 at the BMG Classic last month forced a playoff with Dawie Van der Walt which was ultimately successful and resulted in Kamte's 5th professional title in 8 seasons. Again he'll handle the conditions well and will relish the chance to ply his trade at this level, full of confidence from victory on his last outing. 250/1? Got to be worth a look! RESULT: T9
I made my case for Coetzee at the top of my selections, plus I have to agree with Steve Bamford's Kim selection in Johor. Both players top their respective predictor models and I can see this being a strong, strong double...
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:00GMT 15.11.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
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