Resurgent Casey set to challenge
David John previews this week's Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa and predicts a good week for a fit-again Paul Casey.
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Durban County Club stages The European Tour's first outing of 2013 and hopefully the city will suffer less at the hands of the weather than prior to Christmas when the Nelson Mandela Championship was reduced to a 36-hole pitch-and-putt event.
Unfortunately, the forecast is not great with rain Thursday and Friday - heavy on the latter - which could have the potential to disrupt things in a similar way to the last time the venue staged the South African Open back in December 2010.
The question for punters will be whether the home stranglehold can be broken in Durban with the first four home of Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Louis Oosthuizen - who all tee it up this week - and Charl Schwatzel dominating proceedings.
Oosthuizen and Open Champion Els head the betting with the latter raring to go for the new year and already boasting two South African Open titles here.
He said: "I am excited about golf and really looking forward to my future again. It's a great feeling."
Els starts the year as the world number 24 and is priced up at a best of 7/1 to improve on his near miss in this event 12 months ago when beaten in a play-off by Branden Grace.
He remains a legend in his own lifetime and simply loves - and is loved - playing in his own country so it will be no shock to see him make a bold bid with that fresh positive outlook.
Goosen was also in the play-off with Grace last season but has been recovering from the back surgery he underwent last August and although he feels he should be competitive as his rehab has gone well, I would be inclined to take a watching brief for the time being.
Oosthuizen finished 2012 strongly with four top-six finishes from five starts, being forced out of his last outing at Leopard Creek because of an eye infection.
Casey has endured a torrid spell because of injuries but there have been clear signs that both his fitness and game are getting back near to 100 per cent.
"This is the best I have felt probably in a few years and the form is coming around too," he said at the end of last October on the way to a very creditable T5 at the ISPS HANDA Perth International.
He had three further finishes inside the top 20 to close out 2012 and added: "It is not going to be long before I am back in the winner's enclosure."
Casey is a past winner of this event when it was staged in Bahrain in 2011 - his last victory - and I would not be shocked if things went full circle and he got off to a quick start to the new campaign now he is back in shape.
Donaldson enjoyed the best season of his career to date in 2012 and an interview before Christmas suggests he could push on further still.
He secured his first European Tour title in Ireland in the summer and it was obvious the confidence he gained from that as he went on to claim a top-10 at the USPGA at Kiawah Island.
"It is onward and upwards and winning a major is a strong possibility," the Welshman revealed while also eyeing a place in the 2014 European Ryder Cup team when qualifying commences later this year.
I see know reason why he can't make an instant impact as he now starts to believe he is well up to locking horns with the likes of Els and Oosthuizen on this stage.
A resurgent Henrik Stenson will likely draw on his positive experience from winning in the country last November while I will also be monitoring old favourite Thorbjorn Olesen's progress with interest following his switch in equipment to Nike.