The most interesting candidate is Eduardo Molinari, who is chasing what would be a third consecutive win and fifth in his last seven events. The first couple were of course on the much inferior Challenge Tour, but there’s no arguing with his performances in winning the World Cup alongside his brother, or previously in Japan. Molinari is clearly a prospect, and could well add more titles over the next season. However, I am generally of the belief that people who aren’t named Tiger Woods simply don’t win five tournaments out of seven. The law of averages does apply to some extent in such a competitive sport.
A decent case could be made for another South African, Thomas Aiken, if he could repeat his latest performance in the top 15 of the Dubai World Championship, or better still eighth place at the Open. It’s much harder to fancy another home favourite, Richard Sterne, defending his title as his recent form is very ordinary. Other leading South Africans, such as Garth Mulroy or James Kingston, haven’t looked ideally suited to Leopard Creek.
The European challenge is strangely weaker than usual, but there are a few interesting candidates. Gareth Maybin had an excellent first full season without managing to win, and could be one to watch over the next fortnight as his best performance came in South Africa. For my money, it was a photo-finish between Maybin and RAFAEL CABRERO-BELLO for the ‘best Challenge Tour recruit’ accolade, and the Spaniard is marginally preferred this week. He’s already played here three times in a short career, finishing a respectable 25th on both the first two before improving to fourth last year. As a long-hitter with a great record on the par 5s, Cabrera-Bello looks tailor-made for this track.
Likewise, big-hitting FRANCOIS DELAMONTAGNE is worth considering on the basis of his recent form. The Frenchman, who finished ninth on his last visit to Leopard Creek in 2007, markedly upped his game in the autumn as he battled to save his card. It worked, and was followed by an excellent third behind Tiger in Australia last time out. I’m expecting another good run on this ideal course.
Other Europeans worth mentioning include Delamontagne’s compatriot Gregory Bourdy, the recent Hong Kong Open winner. Anders Hansen won twice in South Africa last winter, proving his threat at this level. Neither are particularly attractive odds, though. Oskar Henningsson, winner of the Silesia Open, makes greater appeal at 80/1 as he’s already finished eighth on this course.