Finally, the European Tour is back, and players will be raring to go in the 2014 opener, here in Durban, South Africa. The Volvo Golf Champions is just that, a tournament for previous champions, either in the event itself, or a winner in 2013, meaning a field full of talent. Alternatively, you could be under the age of 50 and have at least 10 official Race to Dubai/European order of merit wins, if you are wondering why players such as Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Robert Karlsson, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal are playing.
Since the inaugural staging of this event in 2011, we have had three different winners, two South Africans and an Englishman, and this will definitely have an impact on thought processes behind bets this week. I say this, because although Paul Casey won the first edition of this event, that was held in Bahrain, and since 2012 the event has been held South Africa, first of all at, The Links at Fancourt. The tournament then moved to Durban Country Club in 2012, and that is where we stay again this year.
Durban Country Club is a 6,689 yard, par 71, and despite a lack of length, this course will test these golfers immensely. The course makes up for it’s lesser yardage by making the golfers think about where they are putting the ball, a strategic golfers layout. The first half of the course makes it hard for players to get the driver out, due to it’s narrow nature, and this is where decisions first come in to play. There are some massive undulations in the fairways, most prominent on holes 5, 8 and 17, and again this poses another challenge, putting emphasis on shot selection of the tee.
The signature hole at Durban CC is the par 5, 3rd, where players hit their tee shots from the highest point of the course, over the Indian Ocean, right into the valley below. This exposes the tee shots to gusts, and could see some wayward shots from the tee. Trees to the right, and a fairway bunker on the left are to be avoided, whilst large trees also protect the left hand side of the green, where you do not want to go long.
If you map your way round the course, there are holes to take advantage of, and low scores can be made, but it is not a course to be taken lightly. Both eventual winner Louis Oosthuizen, and runner-up Scott Jamieson managed to shoot tournament low, 64’s in round 2, and because of that saw themselves at the head of the leaderboard. Oosthuizen did however shoot a horrible 3rd round, 74, putting the possibility of a win in jeopardy.
As the evidence proves, since the tournament has been moved to South Africa, the South African contingent has been successful and looking at the field this week, it is easy to seeing a chance of that tradition continuing. Joining tournament favourite Charl Schwartzel (7/2) at the head of the betting are last year’s winner Oosthuizen (16/1) and 2012 winner Branden Grace (22/1), and all three have the potential to be in the mix again.
There are still concerns about Oosthuizen’s health, as he battled all of last year with injuries, but on a course where he has enjoyed success as recent as 12 months ago, it would be a nice place for him to get back on track. Having said that, the fact that he has failed to show any consistency since returning late last year, plus his lay-off since, I am going to let him go at 16/1.
Once again, Schwartzel’s price fails to appeal, despite his obvious chances of winning. He had two great chances at both the Nedbank Challenge and the South African Open to add to his collection of wins, and both times failed to convert, and although he managed to win the Alfred Dunhill Championship in between, you cannot help but think he will be bitterly disappointed. At 7/2, I am more than happy to leave him alone once again in one of his home events, and back others in the field at some increased value.
Here are my tips for the 2014 Volvo Golf Champions (Yes I said 2014!) Happy New Year everyone!
Branden Grace 22/1 (Bet365 & PaddyPower) 1.5pts e/w: Grace, without a shadow of a doubt had a dissapointing 2013 campaign, after such an electric season in 2012, but I am convinced he is going to bounce back in 2014 with a win.
This is a good place for Grace to start his year, in his native South Africa, and he is one of the players I would put right at the head of the betting, despite recent form. He did come T6 in his last outing, at the 54-hole Nelson Mandela Championship and that was a positive sign, and something that hopefully contributes to the spark of his revival.
Grace is a 4-time winner, and with all those wins coming in one year, it was inevitable he would play the following year under increased pressure and scrutiny and that possibly had a negative effect on his game. He was unlucky not to add to his win total, when losing out to everyone’s favourite lefty Phil Mickelson in a play-off at the Aberdeen Scottish Open, so again, last year wasn’t a complete wash out.
In terms of performance at this course, Grace had some relative success, coming T7 here last year, even after a opening round of 75, and also coming 21st in the South African Open, back in 2010. He was only a Sunshine Tour member back in 2010, and was still two years away from his breakthrough year, so to have a above average performance at this course back then is nothing short of a bonus in my eyes.
At 22/1 to me he seems great value, as a previous winner of this event, albeit at a different course, he will definitely fancy his chances. Not only do I think he offers great value, I really do rate his chances of winning, and I hope he has a great week, to kick off a potentially big 2014.
Matteo Manassero 30/1 (StanJames) 1.5pts e/w: Even though he is just 20 years of age, it feels like Matteo Manassero has been around forever, and you can be forgiven for thinking that considering his win total.
Despite being so young, the Italian has already picked up four European Tour wins, and I think he is ready to add to that again this year.
Last year, despite having what many consider a disappointing year, he still managed to pick up a win, this time in one the European Tour’s flagship events, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
His current strike rate of a win a year, each year he has been on tour is phenomenal, and not many can boast that kind of record. He went under the radar for much of last season, due to the emergence of young talents such as Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama. For me he is up there with both, and had it not been for a change of style in his game he may of had years as significant as their’s
It was rumoured that Manassero was trying to add distance of the tee to his game, and as a result was missing more fairways than usual, and that is going to effect anyone’s performance. So why do I think he can contend here?
With the course coming in at below 7,000 yards, he won’t have to force anything of the tee, and should he stick to his natural game, he should be fine around Durban CC.
Just twelve months ago, Manassero teed up here and put in a good performance, finishing in the top-10, in T9. Now that he is playing here for a second time, he should know how he should go about his business and that should only aid him this week. He managed to build on his previous steady performances at Wentworth to get the win last year, and I feel he could do the same here.
He has just signed a new deal with Callaway, so he will have all news clubs in play, something that may put people off, so I though it was worth mentioning. For me, it is not a big deal and I fully expect him to play well at the 2nd time of asking here.
As aforementioned, he is a prolific winner, and there is no reason, despite some disappointing form last year, why he cannot contend, and I am happy to have him onside to start 2014.
Morten Orum Madsen 66/1 (Coral, PaddyPower, SkyBet) 1pt e/w: It wasn’t too long ago that Madsen, a superb young player from Denmark won his first event, at the South African Open, and I am hoping he can continue to shine in this part of the world.
In terms of his win at the South African Open, the host course Glendower in terms of length is very similar to our course here in Durban this week, and although they provide a different test, it’s another thing that could work in his favour.
He played the South African Open extremely well, picking his shots, and his game management was superb, especially in contention, which he will need in order to compete here.
His Danish compatriot Thomas Bjorn, who too is in the field this week, won the Nedbank Challenge before Christmas, and with them both winning in short space of each other, they will certainly be looking to spur each other on.
It is hard to figure out a player like Madsen as he is still new to the tour, and he does just have that one win to go by, but I really liked what I saw that week at the South African Open, and I will be looking for this man to have a solid 2014.
At 66/1 in a limited field I thought he looked a good bet all things considered, and that win not so long ago, in South Africa can only provide him with good memories.
Total Points staked on the European Tour this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2014: N/A
Starting the new year fresh, I am hoping for a win straight out the blocks to get us started. I have picked three players here, who I all believe come in at a fair price, especially considering the size of the field. They are some good players at 20/1 and below that were considered, but in the end I liked all three I have picked here, and were happy to go with them at a bigger price. Good luck with your bets this week, and I will be adding a preview for the Sony Open (this week’s PGA Tour event) in due course.