Volvo betting preview
Dave Tindall's in-depth preview and best bets for the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa
Last Updated: 09/01/13 8:13pm
Padraig Harrington: hoping to hit the heights in Durban
The opening European Tour event of the calendar year - although actually the third of the 2013 season - takes place in Durban where home favourites Louis Oosthuizen and Ernie Els headline the field at the Volvo Golf Champions.
The event is open to winners on the European Tour last season, past winners of the Volvo Golf Champions under 50 years of age on the first day of the tournament and players with 10 or more official Race to Dubai/European Tour Order of Merit tournament wins under 50 years of age on the first day of the tournament.
Also making the trip to South Africa are three of Europe's winning Ryder Cup team - Francesco Molinari, Nicolas Colsaerts and Paul Lawrie - along with winning captains Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie.
Major winners Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen are also amongst the 32 pros who will be fighting it out for the first prize.
A general view of the par 3 second hole
Designers: George Waterman and Lawrie B Waters, 1922
Length: 6,732 yards
The Durban Country Club has a rich history having hosted the South African Open on no less than 17 occasions. It was recently voted one of the Top 100 golf courses in the World by Golf Magazine USA and, measuring just 6,732 yards (very short by Tour standards) it's regarded as a real shotmaker's course requiring guile rather than brute strength. The first four and last two holes are very undulating as they are built on sand dunes while there are many trees and shrubs on the course which boasts some stunning views of the Indian Ocean . And, this being South Africa, expect some wildlife - this time in the shape of monkeys! The last major event it held was the South African Open in 2010. It's fair to say the cream rose to the top with the first four home Els, Goosen, Oosthuizen and Schwartzel.
The Durban area has been severely affected by rain over the last couple of months while the forecast shows a 30-60 per cent risk of rain and thunderstorms every day. The course isn't drenched though with attendants feeling the need to water the greens on Tuesday's practice round.
Last year - Branden Grace
A winner at the previous week's Joburg Open, Grace held off two of the legends of South African golf in a three-man play-off. Grace, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen had all posted 12-under over The Links at Fancourt but, after missing a five footer to win in regulation play, a birdie at the first extra hole gave the 23-year-old Grace victory over his two boyhood heroes. Nicolas Colsaerts was also tied for the lead with a hole to play but made a bogey six to miss out.
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
(As it's the first tournament of the year and many players may be rusty, in the below profiles we list their results in any events they played in November or December)
Louis Oosthuizen (4/1): Oosthuizen, flying high at No.6, is the only member of the world's top 20 taking part this week so is the obvious favourite. He finished third in the 2010 South African Open played here and was also 12th in the same event in 2005 so clearly enjoys the layout at Durban. He's won two of his last four starts on South Africa soil and should be refreshed and raring to go again after a run of high-class performances at the end of 2012 was halted by an eye infection which led to him withdrawing from the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
Nov/Dec form: WD-4-5-2
Course form: 3-12-MC
World ranking: 6
"The first five holes are going to be crucial this week. They're narrow into-the-wind holes where you have trouble at both sides, not only on your tee-shots but on your approach to the greens too. If you play them well, you can score but if you hit it a little bit off line it could be a nightmare. Once you get to the sixth, everything kind of opens up a little bit."
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano Quotes of the week
Ernie Els (13/2): The current Open champ has excelled over most of the top South African courses but Durban Country Club is certainly one of his favourites. In 1998 he won the South African Open there and in 2010 he repeated the feat with rounds of 65-65-67-66. He says on his website: "It is a fantastic layout and the home fans really encourage me whenever I play here. I feel a special bond with them and the club." Runner-up in this event at Fancourt last year, the switch in venue could make Els the man to beat this week.
Nov/Dec form: 48-2
Course form: 1-13-1-10
World ranking: 24
Henrik Stenson (11/1): After a spell in the doldrums, the Swede returned to winning ways in 2012 and South Africa was the location. Stenson's win in the South African Open at Serengeti was his first victory since the prestigious 2009 Players Championship at Sawgrass and reminded us that he was once a Ryder Cup star who occupied the dizzy heights of world number four. He backed his Serengeti win up with a seventh in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai so there's good reason to expect his renaissance to continue here.
Nov/Dec form: 7-1-19
Course form: n/a
World ranking: 53
Francesco Molinari (14/1): The Italian was one of the few winning Ryder Cuppers not to post a victory post-Medinah (eight of his colleagues did!) so would like to join that club here with victory over the Americans still relatively fresh in the mind. He does have experience of the course having finished 43rd back in 2005 and the venue should suit his methodical game. Will need to find a spark on the greens though to take advantage of his accuracy. Played in South Africa recently at the Nedbank Challenge where he was seventh out of 12.
Nov/Dec form: 7-34-5-39
Course form: 43
World ranking: 30
Branden Grace (14/1): His victory in this event last year was the second of his amazing four-win season so it's a real question of "follow that!" in 2013. As well as the toughness of trying to hit those same highs, his home advantage won't be as strong in Durban as last year's win at Fancourt came at a course on which he grew up. He did play here in the 2010 South African Open and, to be fair, his 21st was pretty impressive (67-69-74-67) given that he was mixing his time between the South African Sunshine Tour and the European Challenge Tour at the time. Don't rule him out as he's won three of his last eight starts on South African soil.
Nov/Dec form: 12-39-6-65
Course form: 21
World ranking: 34
Defending champ Branden Grace pictured during Tuesday's practice round
Thorbjorn Olesen (20/1): The Dane first came onto the radar in this part of the world when finishing ninth on this course in the 2010 South African Open after a second place in the Alfred Dunhill Championship the week before. Since then that early promise has blossomed into Olesen becoming one of the European Tour's brightest young stars and, as a result, he's just been unveiled as one of Nike's new signings. In the long term it should be a great move but whether he can win with new equipment straight away is another matter.
Nov/Dec form: 21-48-29-11
Course form: 9
World ranking: 50
Nicolas Colsaerts (20/1): The Belgian, who helped Europe to Ryder Cup victory, will be taking up his PGA Tour card in 2013 but he's starting his campaign by trying to win the title here. Had he birdied rather than bogeyed the 72nd hole in this event last year he'd be returning as the defending champion although that frustrating near miss came at Fancourt. Whether this shortish course will suit him as much isn't clear - the reason he's trying his luck in the States is because "I think they (US courses) probably fit my game a little better week in, week out than the ones we play in Europe" - although he does have experience of it having finished 47th in the 2005 South African Open here.
Nov/Dec form: 15-10-34-22
Course form: 47
World ranking: 34
Matteo Manassero (20/1): This short course should really play into the hands of Manassero who became the youngest ever player to win three European Tour titles by capturing the Singapore Open in November. He won't mind at all having to keep driver in the bag and there's good reason to believe he'll be a live challenger here having ended 2012 with a win and a fourth (on the short Fanling course in Hong Kong) in two of his last three starts of the campaign.
Nov/Dec form: 42-4-1-46
Course form: n/a
World ranking: 44
Best of the rest
Retief Goosen (25/1): The Goose is certainly not the force he was but, as he showed when losing a play-off in this event last year, he's still a threat in home-soil events. Runner-up to Ernie Els on this course at the 2010 South African Open, he was also fifth here in the same event in 2002. However, that good course form is cancelled out by the fact that this is his first event since undergoing a back operation in October.
Padraig Harrington (25/1): The Dubliner still hasn't posted a European or PGA Tour win since August 2008 but it's surely a matter of time. He will definitely carry a feeling of having missed the party after not being in Europe's winning Ryder Cup team and this course which requires more brain than brawn should be an ideal fit for him. Has practised extremely hard over the Christmas break so is ready to hit the ground running.
Robert Rock (50/1): Rock hasn't been able to hit the heights again since taking down Tiger Woods and winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship nearly 12 months ago. However, he does have a fifth place here (2010 South African Open) on his CV and there were a few signs towards the end of 2012 that he was finding some form again.
Ernie Els makes his speech after winning the 2010 South African Open at Durban Country Club
Ernie Els' victory at Lytham last July highlighted his love of certain courses (Els had finished runner-up and third in the two previous Opens at the Lancashire links) so he's very much top of my list this week.
There really isn't that much opposition in front of him this year with the main contenders having none of his course knowledge or either easing their way into the season or getting used to new clubs.
A win bet on Els at 6/1 looks a must.
Obviously the small field means there are no real fancy odds around but the 22/1 about Padraig Harrington looks worth a play.
In the build-up to this week's event, the three-time major champion said: "Over the last five weeks you'd be hard pressed to find somebody who's done more time, more practice, more anything on their game than I have.
"I've been putting extra emphasis on my putting in the last five weeks. It is normally one of the strongest parts of my game but it's been weak for the last two years and I've been trying to bring it back up to speed."
Harrington won the elite four-man Grand Slam of Golf event in Bermuda in October to at least give him a sniff of what it feels like to win again and this is a golden opportunity for him to get 2013 off to a flyer.
Talking of which, while not posting victories, Harrington hasn't been averse to making fast starts.
He was twice a first round leader on the PGA Tour last year while he was fifth after day one on his most recent start in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
So, as well as backing him to win the event, take him in the first round leader market at the same price.
4pts win Ernie Els at 6/1
1.5pts e.w. Padraig Harrington at 22/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4)
1.5pts e.w. Padraig Harrington to be first round leader at 22/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4)