Less than a week after the thrilling climax to the 2015 European Tour season, the 2016 Race to Dubai gets underway with the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.
A number of South Africa’s best players will do battle with some of the European Tour’s rising stars for glory in the prestigious Alfred Dunhill Championship at the stunning Leopard Creek Country Club. Home favourite Branden Grace is the defending champion.
Grace is joined on the start sheet by his Major-winning countrymen Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. Other big names to look out for include Joost Luiten, Alexander Levy, Eddie Pepperrell and Richard Sterne.
The event also provides the first chance for those players who made it through European Tour qualifying school to make their mark on the main circuit. Among those who have made it into the tournament through that route are: former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari and 2015 Walker Cup star Paul Dunne.
Niclas Fasth makes his 500th European Tour appearance this week. He’s just the second Swede after Robert Karlsson to reach that milestone.
This tournament began life as the South African PGA, but since 2000 it’s been known as either the Alfred Dunhill Championship or the Dunhill Championship. Since 2005 it’s been played at Leopard Creek Country Club.
Designed by Gary Player, the course at Leopard Creek is in a stunning setting on the edge of Kruger National Park. Winding through the bush and grasslands past natural water hazards, the layout is famed for its plentiful and diverse wildlife.
Back in 1995 the championship was the first European Tour event to be co-sanctioned with another tour. Since then there have been some notable winners. Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Charl Schwartzel have all been champion.
Last year Branden Grace won by seven shots from Louis Oosthuizen. Grace began the final round just one clear of Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, but the Dane suffered a terrible collapse. He came home in 50 and fell back into a tie for 49th place. He’s back this year to banish the demons of that event and will be among the favourites having shown fine form towards the end of the 2015 season with a second place in Hong Kong and a tied third place finish in the BMW Masters.
The weather this week looks like being changeable. Current predictions are for scorching hot conditions on Thursday but possibly rain on Friday and Saturday.
Venue: Leopard Creek CC, Malelane, South Africa
Date: Nov 26-29
Course stats: par 72, 7,287 yards
Defending Champion: Branden Grace (-20)
Thursday 26 – Sky Sports 4 from 12.30pm
Friday 27 – Sky Sports 4 from 12.30pm
Saturday 28 – Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am
Sunday 29 – Sky Sports 4 from 10am
Lucas Bjerregaard – The Dane has been on good form and he has a score to settle with this venue after a terrible final round last year. He’s a stronger player after a good season and will come out fighting this week.
Branden Grace – The defending champion is on a fine run, culminating with a third place in Dubai last week. He’ll surely continue that play at a venue he clearly loves.
Ricardo Gouveia – The Challenge Tour Number 1 enjoyed a stellar season in 2015, topped off with victory in the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final. He’s a hugely talented player and will be one to watch through this year’s European Tour season.
Key hole: 18th: A 541-yard par-5 that can be reached in two. Water comes into play on the approach – Ernie Els found it twice during the final round of 2007 and lost the tournament by a shot.