Following tournaments in Spain, Singapore, China, Japan and Australia over the last month, this week sees the action shift to two more countries in South Africa and New Zealand. The highlight is in South Africa, where this annual end-of-season invitational at Sun City has once again attracted a top-class field of 12, headed by four-time former champion Ernie Els.
In such a small but classy field, nobody can be completely ruled out. After a disappointing second half to the season, Charl Schwartzel is rank outsider but even he has a minor chance given his superior course knowledge compared to most of the field. Nevertheless, using a process of elimination does enable us to whittle down the potential bets.
No course debutants have won this in the past decade, which doesn?t bode well for Niclas Fasth, Rory Sabbatini or Geoff Ogilvy. At their best all three would have claims, but all have questions to answer at present. Sabbatini hasn?t played for two months, Ogilvy just once in that period. In contrast Fasth may have been too busy, finishing the season looking in need of a break.
Sole US representative Stewart Cink will have to improve dramatically on his only previous visit when finishing last two years ago. And despite a welcome third place in Japan on his most recent start, Luke Donald will have to do more against quality opposition to become a serious weekly candidate again after a poor year by his standards. Nor can I consider 2004 winner Retief Goosen as he cannot buy a putt at the moment.
Of the remaining five, home favourites Els and Trevor Immelman are feared but overlooked. Immelman has won at Sun City before in a lesser event, and looks to be approaching his best. He?s still unconvincing with the putter though and could be a better bet in the weeks ahead.
As long as he can cope with the jetlag and climactic differences after a fortnight in Asia, JUSTIN ROSE looks a rock-solid bet at 13/2. He?s enjoyed by far the best 2007 of anyone else in this field, and looked in similarly strong form at the World Cup. The new European No 1 spent most of his childhood in South Africa, and knows the various nuances of this type of golf course, compensating for his relative lack of course experience.
Its a measure of Els? course record that he starts at less than half the odds of Rose, because on recent and 2007 form in general the Englishman is in the ascendancy. Rose won nearly half a million more Euros than Ernie from six less European starts, and has the better recent form. On a course where he has finished 1st or 2nd in seven of the last eleven years, Els will surely improve on two dire recent efforts in Asia, but he is certainly no 10/3 chance.
Better value lies with Australian ADAM SCOTT. Scott ruined a good winning chance in this two years ago with a final round 73, but looked ideally suited to Sun City on that occasion. Having blown several winning opportunities in 2007, he is overdue.
An each-way bet on HENRIK STENSON could also pay dividends. Stenson?s star may have waned a little over the summer, when he failed to maintain his earlier world-beating form. However, he did have the legitimate excuse that his wife gave birth to their first child during this period, and he certainly wouldn?t be the first to experience a dip in form during such a life-changing period. Recent efforts have seen the Swede begin to re-establish himself, and he could quite well peak now back on a course where he finished 2nd last year.