Author: Paul Atkin
Published: 08:58 07/01/2014
The European Tour returns from its festive break, with the Volvo Golf Champions, which takes place at the Durban Country Club, South Africa. It is a limited-field event, and is open to Tour players who won an event on the previous years International Schedule, the only exception being current Tour members with more than ten European Tour victories. With an increased prize fund this year, and a mouthwatering half a million Euro first prize, the 36 assembled players will have plenty of incentive to play well this week.
Although this is only the second time the Durban Country Club has played host to this tournament, the South African Open Championship has been played here on no fewer than 17 previous occasions, and this course is widely regarded as one of the finest courses in South Africa. The 6,689yd Par 72 course, which runs alongside the Indian Ocean, has a decidedly old fashioned links feel about it, especially the first few holes which are played amongst the sand dunes. It is short by modern standards, but the narrow undulating fairways are protected by trees and deep pockets of shrubbery, so this is a week where accuracy and shrewd course management will be at a premium. Warm sunshine, with possible showers and light breezes of 10-15mph are forecast for the tournament.
The market is headed by Charl Schwartzel, who has plenty of course form here, with a 2nd and 3rd place finish in the last two renewals of the South African Open played over this track. Despite this, I think a top price of 7-2 represents little value for punters, so I will look elsewhere to try and get our golf punting year off to a flying start.
My main fancy is Thomas Bjorn, who finished off last year in great form with a win in the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, and a runner up spot to Jason Day in the individual event of the World Cup in Australia. The Great Dane currently leads the Race to Dubai rankings, and must hold every chance of making the European Ryder Cup team for Gleneagles in September; so I fully expect a well motivated Thomas Bjorn to be a factor this week. He tends to play well at this time of the year, and with a solid Tied 9th place finish here last year, I expect a bold show on a course that should play to his strengths.
Another fancy is Matteo Manassero, who rather lost his way last season after a fantastic win in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May. I still think the young Italian is a player to follow this season - any player who can post 4 European Tour wins by the age of 20 can certainly play the game! He played well here on his course debut last year, finishing a highly creditable Tied 9th place, which included a shaky first round of 75, but then followed by three solid sub 70 rounds. His game is tailor made for this type of test, where accuracy rather than length is required, so at the current odds I think he represents decent each way value.
Thomas Bjorn 14-1 E/W Betfred
Matteo Manassero 33/1 E/W SkyBet