And, for the final time in the calendar year of 2018, a European Tour field fights it out for some silverware.
After last week’s showdown at Randpark GC, we stay in South Africa for the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek – a venue used every year since 2004.
Well, not quite. There wasn’t an edition in the 2017/18 season so the last man to win it was Brandon Stone, who raced to a seven-shot victory in December 2016.
Louis Oosthuizen emerged as a brilliant winner of the South African Open last week and bids for back-to-back wins with another trophy here.
Those five dominate the betting.
The Course – Leopard Creek
Opened in 1996, the Gary Player design is a 7,287-yard par 72 set on the edge of Kruger National Park. It winds through trees, bushes and grassland and, if you like a bit of nature, look out for leopards, crocodiles, deer and even a hippopotamus getting some TV coverage. It has kikuya fairways, lots of water in play and creeping bent greens. Scores can be made late as three of the four par 5s are at 13, 15 and 18.
Past five winners, scores and stats
2016 -22 Brandon Stone (DD: 6, DA: 13, GIR: 11, Src: 6, PA: 19)
2015 -15 Charl Schwartzel (DD: 22, DA: 46, GIR: 2, Src: 29, PA: 11)
2014 -20 Branden Grace (DD: 7, DA: 33, GIR: 9, Src: 19, PA: 9)
2013 -17 Charl Schwartzel (DD: 7, DA: 30, GIR: 4, Src: 2, PA: 4)
2012 -24 Charl Schwartzel (DD: 18, DA: 40, GIR: 1, Src: 3, PA: 3)
Notes: All the winners have been solid across the board although hitting it long rather than straight appears more important. The five above were all in the top 11 for GIR.
Temperatures take a hike this week, especially in the early afternoon where we’re in the 90s all four days and possibly over 100 on Saturday. T-storms can be a threat and we may see an interruption on Friday. Winds are modest.
The Leading Contenders
Oosthuizen’s confidence must be through the roof after finally landing his home South African Open at the 11th time of asking… and by six shots as well. “My putting has been as good as it’s ever been,” said Oosthuizen, who ranked second for Putting on the week. His record at Leopard Creek is curious to say the least – two second places, six missed cuts and a WD since 2005. After a first and third in his last two events (both in South Africa), he’s obviously in great nick although there could be a comedown from the high of last week.
Schwartzel, like his great friend Oosthuizen, was also trying to win the South African Open for the first time so will be disappointed he let it slip on the weekend (72-72) to finish T3 after leading at halfway. However, if there’s a course on which to bounce back it’s Leopard Creek. The 2011 Masters champ provides one of the strongest examples of a course horse at any event in world golf having won here four times (2004, 2012, 2013, 2015), finished runner-up four times and taken T4 last year.
A return to native turf has definitely helped Grace find his mojo again after a flat spell on the PGA Tour and he followed T11 at the Nedbank Golf Challenge last month with T7 at last week’s South African Open. There’s every chance that progression will continue at Leopard Creek. He won here in 2014 and has made the top 20 in each of his last four visits, a run that includes T8 in 2015. Widen the search out a little and he’s made the top 20 in his last 16 starts on home soil!
The Englishman stays on in South Africa for a 35th start of the season. He’s actually spending the Festive period here with his girlfriend so it made sense to sign up for the final two events of 2018. Fatigued? It’s easy to say yes after he faded from T2 to T15 with a closing 74 in last week’s South African Open but he’s still a class above most of this field so don’t be surprised if one final push leads to a strong title challenge and possible fourth win of 2018.
After T7 at the DP World Tour Championship and a top five in defense of his Mauritius Open title, big things were expected of Frittelli in his home South African Open. Outcome? He fluffed his lines badly, shooting 3-over to miss the cut. At Leopard Creek he’s connected a trio of top 25s (25-11-22) so, presuming last week was a blip, expectations should be high again.
The Q School grad, who won the 2015 Amateur Championship before finishing T39 in the 2016 Masters, has bundles of talent and showed it again last week when runner-up in the South African Open. That followed T23 in the Mauritius Open and a top four at the Challenge Tour Grand Final. It’s his tournament debut but five top 25s in eight starts in South Africa is encouraging.
Rather like Frittelli, Burmester carried some fine form into his national Open after T11 at the Nedbank and T4 at the DP World Tour Championship but made a mess of it. All looked fine after an opening 67 but a Friday 75 resulted in an early exit. The monster hitter missed his first four cuts at Leopard Creek but has started to solve the puzzle in the last two editions, posting T11 and T17. His good record in co-sanctioned events suggests we treat last week as an anomaly.
Aiken recorded a fifth top five in his last seven South African Opens when making the top three at Randpark GC last week. But his pre-event appeal wasn’t just limited to tournament form as he’d posted 16-10-55-19-23 in five starts since late October. The planets look aligned for another big week here as he owns four top sevens at Leopard Creek, finishing T4 last time and also making the top 20 in 2014 and 2015.
The winner here when the tournament was last played in December 2016 and also T18 on debut the year before. Stone came into the commentary box at the South African Open and was both articulate and entertaining, making positive noises about his own game too. He showed it when closing with a 66 to take T7, his best finish since winning July’s Scottish Open with a final-round 60.
The local man pulled out of last week’s South African Open with illness as opposed to injury so we’ll presume he’s shaken it off until hearing otherwise. Van Rooyen closed his promising 2017/18 campaign with T26 at the DP World Tour Championship while he’s finished T31 and T32 in two tries here. Runner-up in last year’s Joburg Open.