This week’s South African Open golf betting guide is the last of 2009, a year which must go down as the hardest ever for golf punters. With victory at Leopard Creek on Sunday, Pablo Martin became the 19th European Tour winner to start the event at 100/1 or more this year. Golf does of course generally produce more shock winners than most sports due to the high number of capable candidates, but I suspect it will be a long time before we see another season where all four Major winners come from that triple-figure price range.
 
Our last opportunity to retrieve something comes in the form of a prestigious national Open from Pearl Valley. Perhaps the most significant thing to note from previous results here is the difference in scoring between 2007 and 2008, with ten shots separating James Kingston’s 284 winning total and Richard Sterne’s much lower score last year. With the course more exposed after the loss of some trees during recent storms, and strong winds forecast throughout, I suspect Pearl Valley will revert to its former tough nature.
 
Equally significant is the calibre of the leaderboards in those last two renewals. Only two of the 11 players to reach the top five started at 100/1+, and that trend continues further down the placings. Half of the players to make the top-ten were home-grown, fitting the longer term trend of this tournament, which has been won by a Southern African player every year this century.
 
However, it may not be so straightforward for the home team this time as none of their four world-class players; Els, Goosen, Immelman and Clark; are in the line-up. As that quartet provided six of them and all the other South African winners in the noughties were also pretty obvious, the burden of realistic home expectation must be carried by tournament favourite Charl Schwartzel, defending champion Richard Sterne, LOUIS OOSTHUISEN, Garth Mulroy and previous course winner JAMES KINGSTON.
 
Despite finishing second at Leopard Creek, Schwartzel makes less appeal here or indeed many of the other recent venues where I’ve backed him. His performances were ordinary on both previous visits to this course, which places little emphasis on Schwartzel’s key asset; driving distance. This is more of a ‘thinking man’s course’, where the most important attributes are tee to green accuracy and most critically, world-class scrambling.
 
All of the other four main South African players had to make the shortlist as they’ve all thrived at Pearl Valley before. Sterne could very plausibly defend his title after last week’s vastly improved effort. Fourth place at Leopard Creek was by far his best of the last 12 months, and it would seem that once again, the return to familiar surroundings has been the catalyst. Nevertheless, 16/1 is plenty short enough for someone who had been struggling badly beforehand.