One of the most interesting things to watch in the New Year is whether EDOARDO MOLINARI can maintain his outstanding pre-Christmas form, which propelled him into the world’s top 50 in record time. If so, there is no way he should be more than twice the odds of Schwartzel. There is a temptation to assume that Molinari has used up all his winning turns for the time being, but let’s not forget that he could very easily have added the South African Open title to the four he’d bagged in as many months. Whatever happens this week, the Italian will remain high on my players to follow list.
Despite the fact that he gave us no sort of run for our money last week, DARREN CLARKE could be worth persisting with. He didn’t play badly, and 28th place looks a lot worse than it would without a crippling triple-bogey on Saturday’s final hole. With hindsight, that birdie-fest was probably less than ideal for Clarke than this week’s more searching long game examination. He’s driving the ball well, and hitting plenty of greens in regulation. That should serve him well around this long par 71, where he finished fourth in 2008 after an outstanding final three rounds.
Speaking of perseverance, DANNY WILLETT reclaims his fairly regular slot in the staking plan. Though yet to win for us, Willett has twice bagged a big-priced place including at 80/1 in this event. If it isn’t in the black already, I expect our Willett account will be returning good profits before long, as he is very much on the up. A return of eight top tens from his rookie season was admirable, and suggests that with further improvement likely this term, he should be winning a maiden title soon. He’s clearly improved in the 12 months since his last visit, and given his success on that occasion, 40/1 looks good value.
As always in their homeland, a strong case could be made for Thomas Aiken and Louis Oosthuisen. However, both have fairly ordinary returns from this event previously, and aren’t particularly strong in the critical driving accuracy department. Another home favourite, Andrew Mclardy, has twice finished runner-up here, but having missed the rest of the South African season, form needs to be taken on trust. Darren Fichardt was seriously disappointing last week, and has two failures already to his name here.
Other Europeans to consider include Chris Wood, an outstanding prospect who rather like Willett looks a surefire first-time winner in waiting. Last year’s 65th place on this course doesn’t bode well though. Nor do Raphael Jacquelin’s two failures here, or last week’s missed cut. Given the emphasis on accuracy, Peter Lawrie looks a live outsider at 80/1 on his course debut. Jose-Felipe Lima didn’t play too badly for us last week, and again remains one to watch after last year’s Challenge Tour exploits. Two of the previous year’s Challenge Tour graduates, Michael Lorenzo-Vera and David Horsey, made the shortlist.
Instead though, as we’ve seen so many South African outsiders in contention recently, the final slot in the staking plan goes to a home player. Marginally preferred to Jaco Van Zyl, Chris Swanepoel and Michiel Bothma, is Sunday’s third, JBE KRUGER. Still only 23, Kruger clearly has the potential for improvement and that latest result will help his cause no end. He’s already won on the Sunshine Tour and ranks very highly in the driving accuracy and greens in regulation department, so 125/1 seems too big about a man in form, with home advantage.