Back to South Africa this week after the festive break as we take in our 3rd of 4 weeks on the African continent. This week's test is the East London Golf Club in Eastern Cape, the venue of 6 prestigious South African Opens in its time and host of this tournament for the 3rd consecutive season. 2009 winner Retief Goosen and defending champion Charl Schwartzel are both in attendance, alongside Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen plus a host of European and Sunshine Tour regulars.
The course itself is set amongst coastal dunes overlooking Noonah beach and is a mix of links and parkland style courses. The front 9 features the links-style holes with tight landing areas off of the tee and approach shots into small greens; the back 9 is parkland-style with more generous fairways and large, undulating greens. At a shade under 6,800 yards this par 72 is there for the taking and a score in the 20-under region is the likely requirement to take the title this week.
One of the main defences on this course is the prevalence of wind - this week looks like posing a fair challenge in this respect according to the long-range forecast. Players who can handle that plus score well on the slow greens will rise quickly to the top of the leaderboard.
Before I go into my tips, just a quick note to say that we're re-launching our 'punters league' on facebook this week with our sponsors Paddy Power. If you've ever fancied pitting your skills against likeminded punters then you must join the league - it's free and easy, plus there's a £25 free bet up for grabs to the winner each week and now a £275 prize for the overall winner at the end of the season. For more details visit our facebook group here: GBS facebook
My tips for the week are as follows:
The reigning Open Champion will be looking to follow up his 3rd place finish before Christmas with a win here - the fact he's opted to play this rather than fly to Hawaii for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions (with a considerably higher purse) tells its own story and 9/1 just has to be taken. I have no doubt that Schwartzel and Goosen will be in the mix once again come Sunday, however their collective inability to get over the line in recent months points me firmly in the direction of Oosthuizen.
The South African's performance from tee-to-green at Durban CC was immaculate and with 4 reachable par 5s I can see no reason why Oosthuizen won't take this course apart. With a bit more luck on the greens he could have got close to shooting 60 on Sunday at Durban and he'll know that his game is ready for another win right now after nothing 4 top 10s in his last 8 starts. RESULT: Winner
At 28/1, James Kingston appeals much more as a backup to my main selection than some of the shorter-priced players on offer this week. His last 2 starts have shown much promise with a T10 and a T14, however both would have been much, much better save for the odd bad run of holes.
Already a winner in his homeland back in 2008, Kingston is often a strong proposition in front of the home support and has finishes of 8/6 on this course over the last 2 seasons to show for his efforts. Had a great chance to win this in 2009 following rounds of 66-67-65 which put him in the final group on Sunday, however a final round 73 was disappointing - if he can keep it together for all 4 days then expect him to be very, very close. RESULT: T26
Darren won't mind the wind that's forecast this week - in fact he'll thoroughly relish it. Clarke finished a shot behind Retief Goosen here back in 2009 and can clearly play the course - with a relatively poor field assembled once you get past the top 3 or 4, this has to be a great chance for the Ulsterman.
The Ryder Cup vice-captain has been playing steady, if unspectacular, golf in recent times without reaching the heights of his runners-up finish to Edoardo Molinari at Loch Lomond last season. Finishes of 19th in Hong Kong and 28th in Dubai are solid though and look to see him in a competitive position this week. RESULT: T26
The 22 year old has only been a professional for 3 years however has already made his breakthrough with a fine victory at the Coca Cola Championship on the Sunshine Tour in November. Followed that up with a fine 21st finish at Durban CC and will now be ready to take that form into a tournament that's seen him finish 2/8 over the past 2 seasons. RESULT: T8
Progressive form of 25/4 in this event over the last 2 seasons gets the South African the vote here. 4 times a winner on the Sunshine Tour, Fisher Jr has been a consistent performer who is quite capable of shooting the kind of score that will get him into contention around here. RESULT: T26
For my spread betting tips for this event click here: Spread Betting Tips
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 21:00GMT 4.1.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.