The 2018 European Tour seasons comes to an end this week, with the final event being the Alfred Dunhill Championship. The tournament was first played in 2000 and has been played at the Leopard Creek Country Club in South Africa since 2004. However, after an extensive renovation last year, many players will be seeing the new version of this spectacular Gary Player designed golf course for the first time this week.
Leopard Creek Country Club is a par 72 measuring 7,287 yards and it is set in a stunning location adjacent to the Kruger National Park. No doubt, local golf commentator Tony Johnstone will be regaling TV viewers with his knowledge of the amazing animals that surround the perimeter of the golf course, but the big question is whether the new-look course will have more teeth than it did before.
The answer is probably, as Kikuyu rough and fairways have been replaced by a Bermuda grass known as cynodon that is ideally suited to warm climates. The change in grass means the undulating fairways should now play faster, bringing the bunkers and the bush that lines the fairways more into play for the less accurate drivers of the golf ball. The grass on the greens has also been changed to a type of Bermuda grass known as Champion G-12, though it’s unsure what effect that will have.
Whether the changes mean the course will now suit a different style of player than the typical winner is open to debate, and only time will tell, but it may just be this year’s winning score is lower than it has been in recent years.
The strongest tend in recent years is the fact this event is mainly dominated by South African players, with the last six renewals all being won by South Africans. So, it’s no surprise the world-class trio of Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, and Brandon Grace top the market this week.
Oosthuizen has been in especially good form of late and he bounced back brilliantly from the disappointment of not winning the Nedbank Challenge in November to claim last week’s South African Open. He hasn’t fared as well in this event though as he’s yet to win it and, despite finishing runner-up in the past, he also has plenty of missed-cuts to his name. So, as he may well have also been partying hard since last week’s victory, I’m happy to leave him out at a best-priced 5/1.
One player I do have to have on side this week is Charl Schwartzel as he has an outstanding record in this event, including winning it three of the last five renewals. He came in for a bit of criticism last week after blowing a winning chance but, as that was one of his best efforts in the South African Open, I view his third-place finish there as a huge positive coming into this week. He does have to prove he can play the new-look course just as well as the old one, but it would come as no great surprise if Schwartzel has already had a guided tour from course designer and mentor Gary Player.
The 2014 winner Brandon Grace must also have a chance, especially as he likes firm and fast conditions, but it’s hard to put up two selections in single-figures, and I prefer Schwartzel at the prices.
The ever-improving youngsters Dylan Frittelli and Brandon Stone may also go well. However, Stone has the added pressure of defending a title this week after winning the last renewal, whilst Frittelli has yet to post a top-10 finish despite three decent enough attempts.
So, the only other player I want on side this week is Thomas Aiken. He’s not the most prolific winner ever but has placed here on several occasions including the last renewal. Just like Schwartzel, his top-5 finish last week showed he has his game in good order coming into an event he’s played well in before. He’s also played well in several events on the desert swing on the European Tour and could revel in the new firmer and faster conditions if in the same form as last week.
Alfred Dunhill Championship 2018 Free Tips
3 Points Each-Way @ 8.00 Coral, PaddyPower, Betfair SB, BetStars (all 7 places)
1.5 Points Each-Way @ 29.00 Unibet, Betfred, SkyBet (all 6 places)