BE ON WINNER WITH US
Golf expert Mitchell Platts picked a 1-2 in the Hero World Challenge with Jon Rahm (14-1) and Tony Finau (18-1) and a 1-2 in the Australian PGA with Cameron Smith (6-1) and Marc Leishman (11-2).
ALFRED DUNHILL CHAMPIONSHIP Leopard Creek C.C., Malelane, IF THAT old adage ‘horses for courses’ can be relied upon then you can bet your bottom dollar that Charl Schwartzel will win the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
The tournament marks the last hurrah on the 2018 golfing calendar, and the final chance for Schwartzel to end an inexplicable sequence without a win.
When Schwartzel followed his fourth – yes fourth! – victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in November, 2015, with two more wins in the next four months, including the Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour, he was on the crest of the wave.
The South African, oozing confidence, had more Major glory in his sights – he captured The Masters in 2011 – as 2016 unfolded, but 33 months later you would need Lord Nelson’s telescope to locate that last success in the States.
Schwartzel even confessed earlier this year that while he was swinging the club as well as ever he was also probably playing the worst golf of his life.
So what an appropriate time, in terms of getting back on track, to arrive back at the Gary Player-designed Leopard Creek C.C. course in Malelane, a farming town in Mpumalanga, where Schwartzel has won four of his 15 titles since turning professional in 2002 following an outstanding amateur career.
For this is where Schwartzel won his maiden professional title in 2005 when the Alfred Dunhill Championship, after five years at Houghton Golf Club, moved to Leopard Creek and of which he simply says: “I love this place.”
There is, indeed, much to love about Leopard Creek as it is located alongside the Crocodile River bordering the Kruger National Park and it is where you can see the wildlife roam and hear a hippopotamus snort.
Schwartzel was not meant to win in 2005 – Ernie Els was the favourite – but when he won the title for a second time in 2012 he was a national hero, having captured The Masters 50 years on from when his illustrious countryman, Player, became the first non-American to win at Augusta National.
Two more wins in the next three years – he has also been runner-up four times – consummated Schwartzel’s love affair with Leopard Creek where in 2013 he secured his third success by playing 62 bogey-free holes from the tenth hole of his first round.
In all Schwartzel, who took up the game aged four, when his father instilled in him five fundamentals, grip, stance, posture, rhythm and balance, is now 144 under par for 46 Championship holes on the 7287 yards (par 72) parkland course.
Schwartzel will unquestionably be reflecting on those fundamentals this week to get back to winin ning ways and he will also need to give some thought to the extensive improvements that have been made to Leopard Creek which is why the tournament was not played last year.
The grasses have been changed – Bermuda has replaced Kikuyu on the fairways and Champion bent grass from Houston, Texas, has been introduced on the greens – with fairway bunkers re-positioned and a total re-design for the par three 12th.
Schwartzel should be able to take such changes into his stride and it must be remembered that it has not been all gloom and doom in recent times. He did finish third in The Masters last year and tied second in The Players Championship this year.
What is more if it also helps to have coincidences on your side then he can draw confidence from the knowledge that in 2015 when he was battling demons after more than two years in the doldrums he claimed this title to blow those blues away.
Brandon Stone, now 25 and nine years younger than Schwartzel, has waited longer than most to defend a title, because of the course changes, and he is one of several other South Africans, including 49-year-old Ernie Els, who are strong contenders.
Els, who built a house adjacent to the course, won 2006 and although the last of his 70 tournament victories came in 2013 he is also likely to be inspired by being back at Leopard Creek owned by his good friend Johann Rupert, the South African-born entrepreneur.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, is not only the leading South African in the Official World Golf Ranking – at 36th – he is also the highest ranked player competing in the event and although he has surprisingly made the last day only once in his last eight visits he was runner-up on that occasion.
So while the 36-year-old has only one win in the last four years his recent third place in the Nedbank Golf Challenge suggests his game is in the groove and he rates a safer option than the 2014 champion Branden Grace and the other three South Africans in the World top 100 – Dylan Frittelli, Shaun Norris and Justin Harding.
Matt Wallace’s three European Tour wins this year have enabled him to climb into the world top 50 and, after closing the season by finishing fifth in Sun City and second in Dubai, the Englishman looks the likeliest challenger to subdue the traditionally strong South African assault for this title.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL 3 POINTS EACH WAY LOUIS OOSTHUIZEN 2 POINTS EACH WAY MATT WALLACE 2 POINTS EACH WAY ERNIE ELS 1 POINT EACH WAY
In the groove: Louis Oosthuizen
Aiming to end drought: Charl Schwartzel