Alfred Dunhill Championship

Lowdown:
Last year’s Alfred Dunhill Championship finished in incredible fashion when home favourite Ernie Els made an eight at the final hole to lose by a single shot to John Bickerton. The event begins a run of three tournaments to be contested in South Africa and will be followed next week by the South African Open Championship.
Ernie will not be back at Leopard Creek to try and exorcise the demons of last year, but an impressive field has been assembled. Lee Westwood will probably start as favourite but he’ll have to get past a host of South African players keen to win on home soil – Rory Sabbatini heads the South African contingent and he’ll be ably supported by the likes of Charl Schwartzel, James Kingston, Richard Sterne and Hennie Otto.
Back in 1995 the Championship was the first European Tour event to be co-sanctioned with another tour. Since then the competition has earned a reputation for producing first time winners. Eight of the past 14 Dunhill Championships have seen players claim their maiden European Tour victory – Sven Strüver (1996), Anthony Wall (2000), Adam Scott (2001), Justin Rose (2002), Mark Foster (2003), Marcel Siem (2004),  Charl Schwartzel (2005) and Alvaro Quiros (2007). Recent runner-up in Hong Kong, 19-year-old Rory McIlroy, will be hoping he can add his name to that list this week.

Venue: Leopard Creek GC, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Date: December 11-14
Course stats: par 72, 7,249 yards
Purse: €1,000,000
Defending champion: John Bickerton (-13)

TV coverage:
Thursday 11 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 8.30am
Friday 12 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 8.30am
Saturday 13 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 10.30pm
Sunday 14 – Live on Sky Sports 3 from 10.30pm

Player watch:
Lee Westwood – After a victory free season in 2008, the Englishman will be keen to get into winning ways early in this campaign. He’s the top ranked player on the entry list.
Charl Schwartzel – The young South African was the champion here back in 2005. He’ll be looking for a fast start to his 2009 European Tour campaign.
Hennie Otto – The powerful 32-year-old has won many tournaments in his native South Africa, he’d love to add a European Tour event to the list.

Key hole: 18th. A 541 yard par 5 that can be reached in two. Water comes into play on the approach – Ernie Els found it twice in 2007.
Skills required: Course management. With water coming into play on 10 holes, hazard avoidance is critical. Just ask Ernie.