BE ON WIN­NER WITH US

The Racing Paper - - Front Page - by Mitchell Platts

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.

BEST BETS

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

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