Robert set to Rock at Leopard Creek
Robert Rock can return to his best and win the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek says our expert Ben Coley.
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With any luck, the golfing year should end on a high this week with the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
One of the most stunning venues you're ever likely to see, the Gary Player-designed layout is a favourite for fans and players alike and deserves its place in any 'top courses' list.
My only gripe from a punting perspective is that we've a 4/1 favourite who is going to take the world of beating. Charl Schwartzel - who won here in 2004 - stormed to an 11-shot victory in Thailand last week and to be frank I half expected to see 11/4.
I'll come back to Charl shortly, but for now it's worth pointing out that length is an advantage on the 7,326 par 72 layout although the key to success is to avoid the dangers that lie off the straight and narrow with a solid ball-striking week.
The back-nine always provides thrills and spills with three par-fives including the final hole, and unlike many venues across the world it's actually the end of the front-nine which provides the greatest test for players.
That out of the way, I'll first make it clear why Schwartzel will take the world of beating. This event was responsible for his first ever European Tour win, he's been second here four times subsequently, we know he can win back-to-back events as he's done so before and he's not been out of the frame in any of his last four starts.
With that in mind, I came ever so close to going all in because, let's face it, if he plays like he did last week he will win. Not only that, but Louis Oosthuizen has missed his last five cuts here and that leaves Charl as the absolute standout.
However, while he has won back-to-back, both events were in South Africa and the relief of finally winning for the first time in 18 months or so, coupled with the round-the-world travel and a schedule that has seen him yo-yo between Africa and Asia for several weeks now means I can just about oppose him.
Top of the list of players I'm siding with instead is Robert Rock and he headlines the staking plan.
Part of being a successful golf punter is to read all you can about golf, pour over stats, pictures, videos and interviews and generally neglect many other aspects of your life in favour of winning money on this beautiful sport.
But equally as important is surely to watch out for the theories of others and earlier this year both John Rhodes and Ian Richards alerted others to a fascinating link between Leopard Creek and Royal Park, the latter a regular venue for the BMW Italian Open.
Ian used said link to back Garth Mulroy - defending Alfred Dunhill champion - in this year's Italian Open and he played magnificently to finish second at 200/1. The link makes sense, as both courses are similar in length, play to a par of 72 and aesthetically share many similarities.
Mulroy is just one of a long list of players who've produced at both venues and that's certainly something Rock, winner of the 2011 Italian Open at Royal Park, has also done.
That success was of course Rock's first European Tour win in 209 starts but he added to it not long after when beating none other than Tiger Woods to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship title in February.
It's therefore both a surprise and a disappointment that this hugely talented player hasn't added a single stroke play top 10 since, but perhaps that's explainable by an increase in expectation levels after what was a superb victory that came as a surprise to him as well as viewers.
However, recent signs are that Rock is getting back to his best, particularly on the greens, and a final round 66 in the DP World Tour Championship was a fine way to end the 2012 Race To Dubai.
His best single round of the year came back at Royal Park, where he's also been second as well as landing that Italian Open title, so it's clear that Rock is a player who reproduces at certain venues.
And with that in mind, it's hugely encouraging that his Leopard Creek record reads MC-17-14-2-4-8-38, and in truth that 38th would've been a whole lot better had he putted to a half decent standard last year.
With improvement on the greens clear in Dubai and those directly behind Schwartzel in the betting far from invincible, Rock is worth backing to continue his improvement.
Hennie Otto is another with strong ties to both tracks and he's rated the best of the home contingent outside the market principals.
Otto - who is actually a past Italian Open winner at a different venue - was 22nd in this year's BMW Italian Open, but his finishing position far from tells the full story.
The fiery 36-year-old actually made 22 birdies and just three bogeys on the week, but unfortunately a nine and a seven - both on par-fives - cost him a much higher finish.
Still, he's also been seventh at the track in the past and that's the position he filled here at Leopard Creek 12 months ago, when he was third and just three off the pace entering the final round.
Go back to 2003 and you'll see that Leopard Creek was also the venue for Otto's win in the Sunshine Tour Championship, at the time the biggest triumph of his career, so this is a venue which very much fits his eye.
The negative is that he missed the cut in last week's Nelson Mandela Championship but Otto doesn't strike me as the most patient man around so that stunted event won't have had his maximum attention.
Before that he'd bagged successive top 10 finishes in South Africa, including when defending his SA Open title, and at the price I can see him going very close this week.
David Horsey is a player who looks to be close to a return to his very best and at 66/1 he also makes the list.
The Englishman has positive memories of playing on this continent thanks to a win in last year's Trophee Hassan II in Morocco, and although it's been a while since he played Leopard Creek his one and only visit showed a finish of 21st, in which he improved throughout the week.
With three professional victories on relatively long par 72 courses we shouldn't be too concerned that he's among the shorter hitters on Tour, as he's shown that providing he's driving it straight he can contend anywhere.
That's been the case of late as he's emerged from a terrible season by his standards to post back-to-back top 15 finishes, including in South Africa last time out, and having previously finished second at Royal Park in Italy I reckon there's enough to go at.
Finally I'm going to take an absolute flyer in the shape of Matteo Delpodio at 400/1.
Again I'm relying on the link to Royal Park, as Delpodio grew up honing his game on that Turin layout.
It's a game most of us are unfamiliar with, but sufficient in quality to earn him a 2013 European Tour card after he finished 14th at Q School despite slipping from second after three rounds to 24th after four.
Not only that, but earlier this year after Delpodio finished second on the Challenge Tour, Edoardo Molinari - whose brother is one of the best ball-strikers in the world don't forget - described Delpodio as "the best ball-striker on the range I've ever seen".
Of course it's dangerous to wager money on such statements - especially as Edoardo and Delpodio are close friends - but at 400/1 and given the Royal Park link established, he's worth a few pence.