A glance at last year’s leaderboard also suggests the home players could enjoy a significant advantage. 11 of the top-20 were South African, comparing very favourably for instance with the 5 home based players to reach that mark at Leopard Creek last weekend. And beyond just Stenson, its hard to get too enthusiastic about any of the leading European challengers.
 
Lee Westwood is at least much bigger this time at 15/1, but I simply cannot bring myself to risk any more cash after a very weak display over the weekend. Lee should have plenty of incentive to land a badly overdue first title of the year at the last possible attempt, but he’s left the impression of a man who’s primarily enjoying a nice holiday after a long season.
 
Darren Clarke seems on a mission to prove his commitment to the game, making an enormous round-trip to play in Australia last week on route to this in a bid to return to the world’s top-50. Clarke clearly likes Pearl Valley based on his 3rd place last year, but there was absolutely zero encouragement to draw from his missed cut in Sydney.
 
If Rory McIlroy chooses this week to land the inevitable first victory on his way to legendary status, it could ruin my Christmas. I’m determined to stick with Rory most weeks until it arrives, but just can’t get excited about his Pearl Valley prospects. This really doesn’t look like the ideal course for the inexperienced player, and Rory’s missed cut last year after rounds of 83 and 74 may offer a significant pointer.
 
Everything seems to point towards yet another home winner, which would make it nine in a row. Four players in particular have monopolised this event in recent times, with Els, RETIEF GOOSEN, TREVOR IMMELMAN and Tim Clark boasting an incredible 10 South African Open titles between them.
 
Even if he’s been deprived of favourite status for a change, Els still starts by far the shortest of the home candidates. Its hard to figure exactly why. True, he finished the US season well and produced another top-class effort to finish 2nd on his penultimate start in Singapore. But that must be balanced against a below-par effort since against a weak field in Japan, and a never nearer 16th place at Pearl Valley last year. Furthermore, on the basis of a generally disappointing 2008, its hard to make any sort of case for a bet in single figures against such a strong field.