The 2010 Race to Dubai gets off to an early start in South Africa over the next fortnight. In due course, I’ll be laying out some bets on that market but there’s no hurry as there are no more than two plausible contenders in this line-up, and neither Ernie Els or CHARL SCHWARTZEL strike me as particularly likely challengers for this year-long race.
Leopard Creek GC, which hosts this event for the seventh consecutive year, has produced some very dramatic finishes. Most memorably in 2007, Els found water twice to run up a triple-bogey on the par-5 18th, handing the title to a stunned clubhouse leader, John Bickerton. Besides the infamous ‘Van De Velde moment’, this ranks as the greatest turnaround ever seen in golf betting.
What seemed like a freak is sadly becoming a worrying habit for Ernie, most recently seen at the HSBC Champions Trophy where once again he found water with his approach to the par-5 last. I’ve lost count of the number of final day disasters Els has endured throughout his otherwise impeccable career, and can’t offer any explanation beyond an acceptance that he is something of a bottler.
Which brings me to the matter in hand; this week’s betting. At 6/1, I can’t think of a worst-value favourite than Ernie here. He’s not won for 48 events, and only twice in his last 107. Granted, he is the best player in this field by some distance, and overall has played well in recent months. His course record is excellent, winning once and never missing the top ten. As always in South Africa, Els has a great chance and should be on the leaderboard. Nevertheless, 6/1 chances in a full-field European event would need to demonstrate a vastly superior win ratio than that to interest me.
Winners at Leopard Creek range from a mixture of the obvious; Els, Schwartzel and Richard Sterne; to big outsiders such as Bickerton, Marcel Siem and a very inexperienced Alvaro Quiros. The common trait amongst all bar Bickerton, and a large percentage of the placed played, was power off the tee. The four par 5s have a pivotal effect on scoring.
Those are quite specific characteristics and consequently only a dozen or so players came in for serious consideration among what is a pretty ordinary field. Schwartzel and LOUIS OOSTHUISEN have already thrived on this course in their relatively short careers, and are strongly expected to build up several Dunhill titles between them over the long-term. Both have the ideal long-hitting game, both are amongst the few South Africans who are also the equal of their European counterparts on the wider stage.
After winning in 2004, Schwartzel was runner-up in each of the following two years. Towards the end of the European season, Charl looked a winner in waiting so I can’t let this opportunity to get my money back pass by. Oosthuisen was also one of the best players not to win last season, at least on the evidence of his winter form. He stalled mid-season, before slowly improving again in the last few weeks. Twice previously runner-up at Leopard Creek, Oosthuisen’s last four starts have improved on a weekly basis, finishing 23rd, 16th and 12th before second place on his latest start.