Alfred Dunhill Championship Betting Tips: Best Bets from South Africa
There are just two weeks left on the DPWT calendar for 2022; before the players sign off their year in Mauritius next week, they must first tackle Leopard Creek Country Club in the Alfred Dunhill Championship. An event famed equally for this fabulous golf course on which it is played, along with the wildlife and scenery which surrounds it; the course located in the proximity of South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park.
The Alfred Dunhill Championship debuted in 2000, though for the first six instalments it was held at Houghton Golf Club. Leopard Creek took over hosting duties in 2005 and every edition since has been held here; however no event was played in 2017 due to course renovations and last year’s tournament was cancelled due to covid restrictions in South Africa.
This means that Christiaan Bezuidenhout comes here as defending champion thanks to a commanding four-shot victory in 2020 - the seventh South African to lift the trophy after Charl Schwartzel (2004, 2012, 2013, 2015), Ernie Els (2005), Richard Sterne (2008), Garth Mulroy (2011), Branden Grace (2014) and Brandon Stone (2016).
This week’s field possesses the strongest pool of South African players across any of these events the last three weeks and following Thriston Lawrence’s win in the South African Open last week, it would be of little surprise to see a home player follow him in here at Leopard Creek.
Leopard Creek Country Club is our second Gary Player design on the bounce. This par 72 measures 7249 yards and opened in for play in 1996, though went through an extensive renovation in 2017, in which most of the course was re-turfed, bunkers repositioned and landing areas widened.
Not only host of this event since 2005 but Leopard Creek has also regularly hosted the prestigious African Amateur Championship in recent years (2022, 2020, 2019, 2017, 2016), where many of this week’s field – both South Africans and Europeans – have experienced this venue, which will no doubt come in handy this week.
Statistically speaking, those changes haven’t had a major impact in the way the courses plays. The tree-lined fairways - though possessing some more generous landing areas amongst them - have typically been tricky to find, protected by strategically placed bunkers and challenging rough; whilst there will be some line of sight issues into the greens if you’re not hitting the correct side of said fairways.
Despite this, an average-high percentage of greens – which will be set to play firm and fast if the weather allows - are usually hit; imperative to do so as Leopard Creek offers a real challenge around the greens, with many heavily bunkered and collection areas/run-offs ready to welcome errant approach shots; water too in-play on around 1/3 of holes on the course.
The course has a good mix of risk/reward opportunities – with four par 5s and two potentially drivable par 4s (the 6th and 11th holes) – and more challenging holes, where a par is a good score.
Most of those more difficult holes come on the front nine, with the par 3 7th and par 4 3rd, 8th and 9th holes rating as four of the hardest scoring holes in the 2020 renewal; though it is on the back nine where the most fun is had, with three of the four par 5s coming up over your last six holes; all scoreable but equally all possessing danger – holes that will either make or break your round or even tournament.
Though we’ve had some low sub -20 winning scores - Charl Schwartzel -24 in 2012, Branden Grace -20 in 2014 and Brandon Stone -21 in 2016 – all of those wins have come by large margins, with the rest of the field generally finding Leopard Creek more of a challenge; in-keeping with all other renewals, especially the three since the renovation, which have been won with respective scores of -14, -8 and -14. There is no let-up, with risk on virtually every shot, however if you keep your ball in-play off-the-tee and avoid leaving yourself some of the challenging up and downs that await, you can gather birdies.
This is a course that doesn’t appear to suit any one type of golfer. In the last four years we’ve had winners ranging from the straight and steady Christiaan Bezuidenhout and David Lipsky; the high-quality, long driving Brandon Stone; and the more erratic ball-striker in Pablo Larrazabal. However, what holds many of these together - along with some of their closest challengers in those years - is an excellent short-game. Bezuidenhout, Lipsky and Larrazabal have all excelled around-the-greens on the DPWT, very much evident in each of their victories.
Bezuidenhout ranked 7th in scrambling when winning in 2020, Larrazabal was 3rd around-the-greens in 2019 and Lipsky 1st in scrambling in 2018. Though Brandon Stone is at his best with driver in hand, when he won here in 2016, he too ranked 1st in the field in scrambling.
This doesn’t devalue ball-striking, many have contended here in recent years off the back of a strong driving/approach performance, some combining both for an all-round quality ball-striking display. Indeed with just a quick look at that 2020 edition we find a trio of strong ball-striking youngsters in behind Bezuidenhout, with Jayden Schaper, Adrian Meronk and Sean Crocker all tying for second; though all finished four shots behind Bezuidenhout who excelled on and around-the-greens.
With that I’ll also put importance in those ball-striking areas this week, particularly approach play with likely receptive conditions and little wind making this place more attackable than usual.
In addition I feel mastering the par 5s is a must; if you’re in with a shout come the final six holes on Sunday, you want to have someone on your side who you know can score the par 5s well.
Key Stats: Scrambling. SG: Around-the-Greens, SG: Approach, Par 5 Scoring
Secondary Stats: SG: Off-the-Tee, Green- in-Regulation
Omega European Masters @ Crans-sur-Sierre
A tree-lined course with drivable par 4s, scorable par 5s and posing a similar level of difficulty around the greens - Crans-sur-Sierre should act as a good guide to Leopard Creek this week.
David Lipsky has won at both venues; Graeme Storm, who was 4th here in 2017 and played well on three previous visits was 2nd at Crans in 2014; Jaco Van Zyl, Scott Jamieson, Sean Crocker and Adri Arnaus among other players to have a good record in both events.
Dubai Desert Classic @ Emirates Golf Club
Emirates Golf Club had some of the strongest form-ties this week – little surprise with fairways similarly tricky to hit, rough comparably penal and difficulties awaiting around the greens.
Each of the last three runners-up in Dubai – Richard Bland, Brandon Stone and Christiaan Bezuidenhout – have finished top two at Leopard Creek, with Stone and Bezuidenhout past champions. Alvaro Quiros has won at both courses; Richard Sterne has a 2nd in Dubai to go with his win in the Alfred Dunhill; further form ties on offer from Adrian Meronk, Scott Jamieson, Adri Arnaus and Davis Lipsky.
BMW PGA Championship @ Wentworth Club
The tree-lined Wentworth is another of the DPWT’s trickier scrambling courses and looks a good comp with multiple par 5s late on another decisive feature.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout has twice finished top five in the BMW PGA, whilst South Africa’s Thomas Aiken has strong records in both. Sean Crocker, Jaco Van Zyl and Graeme Storm tying this form together tighter, each with a top 10 at Wentworth.
Czech Masters @ Albatross Golf Resort
I’ll sign off with the Czech Masters. A real risk/reward course where bunkers are plentiful and in which some interesting form-ties have developed in recent years.
Sean Crocker has a runner-up finish in both, whilst fellow American, Johannes Veerman is a past champion there in Czechia and has finished 7th and 25th on two visits to Leopard Creek. Adri Arnaus has finished 2nd there to compliment his good record here; added form-ties on offer from Scott Jamieson, Zander Lombard, David Lipsky and Graeme Storm.
Rain is set to fall frequently before the event and continues into Thursday, reappearing again on Sunday. This would take some fire out of the greens and with the potential for little wind, scoring conditions may well be kinder than the three most recent renewals.
As mentioned, this is the best field of the three-week stint in South Africa. Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace both stay on, joined by Louis Oosthuizen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout returns to defend his title.
Dean Burmester adds more home star-power, whilst last week’s South African Open winner Thriston Lawrence looks to go back-to-back.
Antoine Rozner and Eddie Pepperell make their first starts of this new season, Casey Jarvis returns to the scene of his African Stroke Play Amateur win earlier this year; whilst it will be interesting to see how Japanese youngster Ryo Hisatsune performs following a strong start to his life on the DPWT in Australia the last two weeks.
Reigning champion Christiaan Bezuidenhout heads the betting at 10/1, followed by Louis Oosthuizen at 12/1 and Charl Schwartzel at 14s. This is a strong trio of home favourites and with Dean Burmester, Branden Grace and Thriston Lawrence coming next, you may feel we have a task on our hands to get these leading runners beat this week.
Having said that, there are question marks over most of them in my mind: Bezuidenhout is a little short for me at 10s, whilst Oosthuizen wasn’t exactly setting the world alight in the LIV Series last time we saw him and hasn’t played for over a month. Schwartzel is an obvious danger with his excellent record here and a strong top 10 in the South African Open last week, though hasn’t won a ranking title since 2016, so again is passed over at the price.
Grace withdrew from last week’s field though as a past champion is a little more tempting at nearer 20/1; meanwhile, Burmester and Lawrence don’t have great records here, though at the price Lawrence looked the most appealing at 20/1 considering the form he’s in.
However, I’m going to pass them all over for a man surely destined to become one of the biggest stars of the game in South Africa over the coming years: huge-hitting Wilco Nienaber.
Alfred Dunhill Championship Tips
- Wilco Nienaber 33/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1.5 pts ew
- Daniel Van Tonder 45/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
- Tom McKibbin 80/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
- Sean Crocker 100/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
- Jeremy Freiburghaus 250/1 – 1/5 7 places (Betfair) – 0.75 pts ew
- Thomas Aiken 300/1 – 1/4 5 places (Betfred) – 0.5 pts ew
- Thomas Aiken 20/1 – Top 10 (Betfred) – 0.5 pts
Following a poor finish to last season, which ultimately resulted in Nienaber once again failing to secure full playing rights on the DPWT – for all he’ll still get plenty of starts – he has kicked off this season in much better form; finishing 24th at the Joburg Open two weeks ago and was 15th last week in the South African Open; both weeks entering the weekend with a shout before fading.
As you’d expect with Nienaber, both of these performances have been engineered by the driver – by far the biggest weapon he has at his disposal, ranking 3rd on the DPWT last season and hits the ball further than anyone on tour. Though in addition to this I’ve been pleased to see his short-game showing positive signs, particularly around the greens; whilst his irons are his biggest weakness, there was improvement in that area too last week.
He’s used this power-packed driving game – which should see him dismantle the par 5s and drivable par 4s here – to amass a strong record at Leopard Creek. Not just in his starts in this event – where he’s finished 24th and 12th on just his two starts – but Nienaber showed the course’s suitability to his game going back to the amateur days, finishing 6th in the 2019 African Amateur Stroke Play Championship.
A top 10 in the Czech Masters boosts confidence, as does his first professional victory in the Dimension Data Pro-Am at the Gary Player designed Fancourt last year and if Nienaber can find a little more improvement in those irons this week, he can cause a stir amongst those more proven home talents.
Daniel Van Tonder has been playing well over recent months, missing just one of his last seven cuts and finishing 3rd in the Joburg Open two weeks ago. Producing better golf in approach at the moment than just about anyone else in this week’s field, he can strengthen an already strong record at Leopard Creek by claiming a 9th win on home soil this week.
That good record in this event saw Van Tonder finish 15th on debut in 2012 and though he’s had his fair share of missed cuts at Leopard Creek since, he’s added two further top 10s, the best of which is a 6th place finish in 2019 – highlighting how well he can go here when his game is in shape.
In shape it is, shown by that 3rd in the Joburg, where Van Tonder was the best iron player in the field – worth noting the stats in these co-sanctioned events aren’t the most reliable, so to be taken with a pinch of salt, still he’d have undoubtedly played well - and combined it with a strong driving/putting performance.
Though finishing 64th last week, his irons were once again in fine form, ranking 3rd in the field, ultimately let down by a poor week on the greens.
These approach performances are particularly encouraging as it’s the area in which he has struggled in most since getting on to the DPWT; very much looking at his best with driver in hand, as well as possessing a nice touch around the greens and if he can keep that up, whilst returning to the quality of putting performance we saw in the Joburg Open – Van Tonder can pick up a 2nd DPWT title this week.
Hailing from Hollywood Golf Club – the same course at which a young Rory McIlroy earned his stripes – comparisons to the world’s best player were inevitable for Northern Ireland’s Tom McKibbin.
A good amateur career that saw him hit the WAGR’s top 100 signalled a player with potential and he has continued to improve since turning pro last year; finishing this season ranked 10th on the Challenge Tour - thanks to six top 10s which includes a runner-up finish in the Irish Challenge – earning himself a card on the DPWT at the first time of asking.
Finishes of 18th and 15th in the last two weeks represents an excellent and hugely promising start to the season and his career on the DPWT; indicating that for all the McIlroy comparisons are a little unfair, McKibbin looks a talent with a bright future in the game.
Even more encouraging than the bare results is that he has shown himself to be adept in every area across those two starts. This big-hitter produced a strong driving performance when 18th in the Joburg Open, matching it with quality in the short-game; though the driver was a little off last week, he found a strong approach performance, whilst once again looking good around the greens.
I’m not overly keen on players who haven’t had a trip to Leopard Creek due to the unique nature of the course and its surroundings; no such worry with McKibbin though, as he played here in the African Amateur Stroke Play in 2020, finishing 9th.
This experience sure to stand him in good stead this week and with all areas of his game showing form he can continue his strong start to the season in the Alfred Dunhill.
Sean Crocker’s form has certainly dipped since earning that breakthrough DPWT title at the Hero Open at the end of July – making just three of his last ten cuts. Having said that, Crocker only missed the cut by one at last week’s South African Open following a three-week break, looking quite solid tee-to-green and I’m hoping a return to a place at which he has a fabulous record will spark him back into life.
His record here has seen Crocker finish 18th on debut in 2018, following that with a 2nd place finish behind Christiaan Bezuidenhout in 2020 – both times producing a high-class approach performance but losing strokes on the greens. This sums up his game and is the risk you take with the American; for all he can look a genuinely world class ball-striker when firing, the short-game has the ability to frustrate and then some.
Though with that record here, along with strong correlating form figures that includes top 5s in the Czech and European Masters – I feel he is a risk well worth taking at this appealing three-figure price.
A couple of speculative long-shots to finish, one from the old guard and the other the new. Casey Jarvis was well considered following his good performance two weeks ago and a strong record here from his amateur days that includes a victory but instead I’m going to side with Switzerland’s Jeremy Freiburghaus – who qualified for the DPWT this season thanks to finishing 2nd on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca last season.
Freiburghaus turned pro in 2018 after a solid amateur career – one which saw him play a fair amount of golf in South Africa, winning the Northern Amateur Open in 2017 just one start after he finished 7th in the African Amateur Stroke Play, here at Leopard Creek.
A solid first season as a pro ensued in 2019, though it was in 2020 that Freiburghaus really took off, winning twice on the ProGolf Tour, as well as collecting further 2nd and 3rd place finishes; earning him a promotion to the Challenge Tour in 2021.
He enjoyed a decent enough first season there – a 3rd place finish in the Emporda Challenge at the end of 2021 his best result – but his form has once again gone up a level this year.
He’s eight-times finished inside the top ten on the Challenge Tour this year, looking like he was going to be an unfortunate non-winner with two 2nds and two 4ths to his name, this before finally breaking through on the Challenge Tour – winning the English Trophy on his second last start of the season.
This solidified his step up to the DPWT and his first two starts here haven’t been without promise. He finished 39th in the Joburg Open two weeks ago, looking good in approach and with the putter – opening and closing the tournament with rounds in the 60s. Though missing the cut last week he opened with a round of 69, making that three of six rounds in the 60s the last two weeks – ultimately missing the cut by one thanks to a second round 74.
He can be a little wayward off the tee, though doesn’t lack for distance. He’ll have to find a few more fairways here but I’m buoyed by his positive amateur record here in South Africa and with the advantage of playing here before, this confident winning type looks one of the more likely contenders amongst the Challenge Tour graduates this week.
Finally I’m going to take a chance on former Spanish and African Open champion, Thomas Aiken. He’s had to deal with some difficult personal situations the last couple of years which has hindered his ability to play more golf but has looked solid when teeing it up this year, missing just two of eight cuts; returning to a place in which he has a good record he can make the frame for the first time since the 2018 South African Open.
He made his first start in around eight months at the ISPS Handa Invitational back in August, finishing an impressive 20th considering the time off. Most recently he’s teed it up the last two weeks in South Africa - he’s always excelled himself when teeing it up back home, winning eight times – producing a 30th place finish in the Joburg Open, closing the tournament out with two consecutive rounds of 68 – his best rounds of the week.
He followed with a 62nd in last week’s South African Open and though not appearing as strong a result, I take a made cut on that huge, open course as another positive for this straight and steady operator who wouldn’t be most at home on that kind of set up.
Even more encouragement is found when delving deeper into his game over these recent starts, as Aiken has been producing some quality approach play, combining it with that habit of finding fairways and an ever-existing ability to get up and down.
This skill-set has carried him well here in the past, possessing a strong record as far back as 2005, with three top 5s to his name amongst other top 20 performances. Top 10s at Wentworth and in Dubai indicate his suitability further and if this classy operator is on his way back to finding form, 300/1 could well look a big price by Sunday.