ALFRED DUNHILL CHAMPIONSHIP

The European Tour moves on to its ?South African Swing? stage for three events starting with this longstanding fixture on the schedule. Stand-alone favourite ERNIE ELS bids for his fourth win in this event, the last of which came two years ago on this course, Leopard Creek.

Its hard to draw a confident conclusion about the exact state of Els? game at the moment. There have been whispers about a slow decline, and certainly some of his recent efforts, particularly in Asia, were extremely disappointing. However it was just six weeks ago that Ernie looked at his imperious best in cruising to a seventh World Matchplay title at Wentworth, and only a few months since he was placed in consecutive majors. Even over the weekend at Sun City, despite never really looking at his best, Ernie managed to finish a clear third, ahead of nine top international stars including this week?s second favourite. The simple fact is that Els is in a different league to the rest of this field, probably more than the admittedly skinny odds of 10/3 suggest.

Richard Sterne is the only other member of the world?s top-50 in attendance, with another three ranked in the top-100. After a brilliant first half to the season in Europe, Sterne would have been a strong selection were it not for several below-par efforts at Leopard Creek. The other three from the top-100 are Simon Dyson, Ross Fisher and course specialist CHARL SCHWARTZEL.

Schwartzel finished 13 shots behind Ernie at the Nedbank Challenge on Sunday, but will fancy his chances on a course where his three year record is one win and twice runner-up. Again, at just 12/1 the bookies are hardly giving money away though that shouldn?t detract from his very obvious chance.

Fisher, too, has an obvious chance as he?s improved beyond all recognition in the year since he finished 4th in this event. Certainly a repetition of his performance behind Mickelson in Shanghai would be enough to land this. Fisher?s odds of 16/1 are one short price too many for me though, given his overall inconsistency. Dyson could be at a disadvantage on his course debut.

Be wary of translating European form too literally onto the Sunshine Tour. There are distinct differences in course conditions where the locals have an advantage, and several players offer a vastly different profile in these events. The likes of Hennie Otto, Andrew McLardy and particularly LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN have only ever momentarily featured prominently in Europe but become serious players at home.

Oosthuizen was rated more or less the same as Schwartzel when they first emerged as stars of the future a few years ago, but the latter has made much greater strides in world golf since. Oosthuizen has had his moments in Europe, most recently when 4th at Loch Lomond in July, albeit amongst seven missed seven cuts out of nine either side of that. As soon as he decamped to the Sunshine Tour last month Oosthuizen perked up and won immediately, before finishing second on his last start a fortnight ago. His record In South Africa is quite superb, winning three times and finishing second twice in his last five home starts. Notably he finished well ahead of four of the five market leaders in the recent Champions Trophy in Shanghai.

Much further down the market at 66/1, ALAN MCLEAN looks interesting. McLean mostly plies his trade very successfully on the Canadian Tour, and rarely lets himself down when pitched in at the higher level in Europe. He was placed in the Russian Open, and made the top-25 on two of his other three European starts since the summer. More importantly, he has excellent form at Leopard Creek, finishing 4th and 8th twice in his last three completed tournaments there.