Co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour, there is little to suggest that this low-key opening event of the year carries the Euro Tour banner. There are only three players ranked within the world?s top 100, with RICHARD STERNE the sole representative of the world?s top 50 and forty places ahead of Charl Schwartzel and RAPHAEL JACQUELIN.
In fact such is the paucity of this field, it would be hard to tell that there were Ryder Cup qualification points up for grabs if it were not for the presence of one DARREN CLARKE. Clarke gave a strong hint that he was on the way back just before Christmas with a fast-finishing third place in the stronger South African Open. He?s certainly talking a good game coming in this week, claiming he?s worked hard over the festive period and is itching to get back into Ryder Cup contention. Certainly, he?s the class act here and has a number of wins in lesser company. The fact he?s targeted this early event may be a tip in itself, and makes Darren a confident selection.
Last year?s winner Ariel Canete was a gift for the bookmakers, and the chances of another shock winner must again be strong. Good luck to anyone looking for that elusive 100/1 winner here though, because besides a handful of obvious contenders the rest are little more than Sunshine Tour journeymen. For me, the best value lies at the head of the market.
Sterne and Schwartzel both have big futures in the game even if they did little to boost their cause in the closing months of 2007. Both started the year in great fashion, Schwartzel looking a big contender every week until heading to the States in the early summer, while Sterne headed most European statistical categories before an injury sustained at the Open Championship derailed an extremely consistent year. Preference this week is for Sterne, who finished 3rd on this course back in 2002 when virtually unknown.
I can?t have James Kingston winning twice on the spin, especially with his 22/1 odds looking a massive over-reaction to his ending a long losing run before Christmas. Rather I prefer LOUIS OOSTHUISEN at the same price. Oosthuisen is prolific on the Sunshine Tour and could easily have landed his fourth and most prestigious win of 2007 in the South African Open were it not for some poor final day luck. He also played well for three out of four rounds here last year, not uncharacteristically blowing his chance with one untimely 74 in round three.
Jacquelin looks fair each-way value at 33/1. His presence may also be an early attempt to make some headway towards Ryder Cup qualification, an ambitious if not unrealistic target for the talented but inconsistent Frenchman. In his favour are 2nd and 5th placed finishes on his two most recent trips to South Africa.