The new European Tour season begins on Thursday at the gorgeous Leopard Creek, and Ben Coley has five selections.
Apparently, various types of whale can't afford to sleep, lest they drown, and it's presumably with this logic in mind that the new European Tour season begins little more than three days after the last one ended.
Thankfully for those of us who are wearied - Jon Rahm had a seven-week break before winning the DP World Tour Championship; I did at least manage to skip the KLM Open in September - it's off to Leopard Creek, one of the most spectacular destinations in the sport, for the loveable Alfred Dunhill Championship.
There will be no whales on show, but there's a chance you'll see each of the Big Five during some panoramic shots of neighbouring Kruger National Park, and it all adds to a feeling of tranquility which not even a hazardous golf course can break. Whatever happens here is unlikely to change a career.
The golf course, a par 72 designed by Gary Player, is tough. Charl Schwartzel might have reached 24-under-par here in 2012, but the runner-up was fully a dozen shots adrift. Similarly, when Branden Grace enjoyed his own Kruger coronation, 20-under left him with seven shots to spare over Louis Oosthuizen, and if your man reaches 12-under this week he should get you something. Probably a dead-bloody-heat.
Schwartzel is not alone in calling this is favourite place in the world to play golf - Nottinghamshire's Oliver Wilson, for instance, has stuck to similar lines regardless of his finishing positions - but he is the standout course specialist. Four wins by an aggregate 20 shots make him the undisputed King of the Creek, and it makes sense he chooses this event for his return following a seven-month absence.
The former Masters champion opened up a tentative 12/1 in a place but has since been eased to 18/1, despite the withdrawal of Erik van Rooyen, and I doubt anyone is surprised. Golfers tend not to win tournaments after so long away, and for all that he's been practicing pain-free, it will be a successful week if the four-time champ plays all four rounds.
As we look for the next Schwartzel, the next Oosthuizen, perhaps even the next Grace, van Rooyen would be a popular choice. Next might be Christiaan Bezuidenhout, the new favourite, and there are kids like Wilco Nienaber, Garrick Higgo and Jayden Trey Schaper who appear to have the talent to go far in the game granted a little luck along the way.
But it's BRANDON STONE who still appears the youngster with the most potential, at the age of 26, and this three-time European Tour winner should take a heck of a lot of beating this week.
If Schwartzel is king here, then Stone, a winner by six shots in 2016, is prince. He's played this course three times and has never been outside the top 20, with that demolition job showcasing the full range of his undoubted talents.
A lack of consistency has meant Stone hasn't quite kicked on - I would've expected him to have cracked the world's top 50 by now - but victory in last summer's Scottish Open again demonstrates that he has all the tools, his textbook swing and calm glass-half-full demeanour making him a natural successor to Oosthuizen in particular.
When winning here, Stone arrived having found form from nowhere to be second in a Sunshine Tour event, and history could be about to repeat. When last in action a month ago, he took second place in the Portugal Masters, looking a little unfortunate, and prior to that he'd dropped a big hint with three good rounds in the Open de France.
That's high-class form in a field packed with Qualifying School and Challenge Tour graduates, a chunk from the Sunshine Tour, others without full playing rights, and having contended here before a poor final round in 2018, Stone really does tick every box.
He even says he prefers the course since the reconstruction work which meant the event didn't take place in 2017, delaying his title defence as kikuyu was replaced by a local grass better suited to the weather.
"Any time you get to come back to Leopard Creek is a very special occasion," said Stone after a first-round 69 last year.
"He (course owner Johann Rupert) made the golf course that I like so much better, I'm such a fan of this type of grass - kudos for him for making me feel even more comfortable!
"The bunkers have been shallowed out, the greens are superb - it's just more fun to play."
It shouldn't surprise you then that Stone has been at Leopard Creek for a week, and after an excellent all-round display in the Portugal Masters he seems sure to arrive on the first tee in peak health. For my money that makes him the man to beat.
George Coetzee built on a similar fortnight to Stone with victory in the Vodacom Origins Final last month, a first-round 61 paving the way for a never-in-doubt success as 7/2 favourite, but he makes one too many a mistake off the tee to be trusted at such a dangerous place.
Some would argue the same is true of ZANDER LOMBARD, but this young stud is going places and it wouldn't be any kind of surprise were he to secure his breakthrough win.
Last time out, Lombard hit the ball superbly to finish eighth in the high-class Nedbank Golf Challenge, a performance which represented another step forward on 17th in the previous week's Turkish Airlines Open.
Having held a clear lead at halfway, of course the 24-year-old will have been disappointed not to do better at Sun City, but I was struck by the way he spoke after the final round of a week which will have taught him plenty.
"I felt like I really played well. The best I felt the whole week with my game but like this game and golf course, it's brutal and it took its toll on me today," he said after a closing 77, before referencing six lip-outs and what he called one poor decision.
"My game feels amazing," he continued. "It's putting four days together and I feel like I've matured a lot in the last six, seven months. A win's got to go around the corner.
"Keep doing what I'm doing and it might be a good thing that I get next week off, and start a fresh season at Leopard Creek and really going to try and win it."
That was Lombard's Sun City debut and whatever happens this week, it really should be an experience he can call upon when in the mix - as he has been in other, high-profile events, despite being so young.
He gets a bit of stick if you turn in certain circles, largely because he's been a little wild since turning professional as a teenager, but Lombard has all the shots and he's started to demonstrate real control from tee-to-green.
That was on display here last year, when he struck the ball superbly en route to third place, and ever since finishing ninth in the Irish Open behind Rahm he's looked to be edging towards that first European Tour win.
Like Stone and Schwartzel, it would make perfect sense if it came in South Africa, and we should take heed of Lombard's closing statement in the media room at Sun City where he said: "Keep an eye on me."
The rest of the front-end of the market looks weak to me, with the exception of Ross Fisher. He's ultra-reliable in South Africa and has two top-five finishes in four starts here, enough to suggest he could reignite things as he did in the Tshwane Open five years ago.
Fisher arrives on the back of his worst ever European Tour season, but it's one which ended positively with 10th place on an invite - a controversial invite, you might say - in Turkey. Anything like that form here would see him go close, but it's just a little difficult to support a player at 22/1 who might not have many more wins in front of them.
That's not the case with the main two selections and this is a great opportunity for both youngsters to shine.
Of the Challenge Tour graduates, Antoine Rozner looks a big price and Adrian Meronk has a big future, but the market is probably right to make Calum Hill, Francesco Laporta and Matthew Jordan the main players.
Alvaro Quiros won here in his first start as a cardholder, and of the trio it would be Hill, who held his own on the PGA Tour a fortnight ago, for me.
Also keep in mind his compatriot Connor Syme, who has plenty of good experience here at Leopard Creek having once been second in the Africa Amateur, one of several visits. He's back on the European Tour and, like Hill, ought to be inspired by Bob MacIntyre's exploits in an event fellow Scots David Drysdale and Scott Jamieson have gone close to winning.
That being said, the pick of the outsiders is JOHANNES VEERMAN, who played by far the best golf in the field over the final four rounds of Qualifying School just over a week ago.
Veerman is a 27-year-old American who has so far played most of his professional golf in Asia, but he's done well lately in some strong European Tour events and it wasn't all that surprising to see him earn a card in Spain.
What was surprising was the fact he went from shooting a pair of 74s to open to going 67-67-66-66 thereafter, a quite brilliant performance at Lumine, and the hope is he can kick on at the first opportunity and make it back-to-back American winners here.
When Lombard was third in 2018, it was soon after he'd tied first at Qualifying School, and it came right after Kurt Kitayama had announced himself with victory in Mauritius, again having come through that six-round slog in Spain.
Victor Perez was third in the Hong Kong Open, the first event of the season, having just graduated from the Challenge Tour, so while Quiros is the exception in terms of winning, there are myriad examples of players contending immediately after earning their credentials.
Veerman, who flew home for fourth in Malaysia and 17th in Kenya back in the spring, has what it takes to get competitive at this level and is worth siding with at three-figure prices.
Others who caught the eye included Renato Paratore, who is playing better than his form figures might suggest and is much more capable than most of those around him in the market. He's played solid golf in both previous Leopard Creek visits and still has scope to become one of the leading players from a country blessed with plenty of talent right now.
Thriston Lawrence played well here alongside Lombard when they were amateurs and is promising, though not enough to suggest he's about to spring a 150/1 surprise, while three-figure prices about the accurate Adrien Saddier look reasonable after a top-five in Portugal and a successful trip to Q School.
However, I'll finish off with his compatriot, JULIEN GUERRIER, and talented Australian youngster JAKE MCLEOD.
Guerrier has made all three cuts since returning from a lengthy injury absence, prior to which he looked ready to break through on the European Tour.
This former winner of the Amateur Championship won twice on the Challenge Tour in 2017 and has since been a fairly consistent threat at this level, top-10s in Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic and Oman marking him out as one to follow.
I thought there was a lot to like about his display in Italy, where he sat eighth at halfway in a Rolex Series event, and a previous top-20 finish here is another small positive to weigh against the obvious concern that he might still be short of where he needs to be.
It's all about price, though, and at 175/1 with seven places, or 200/1 if you're happy taking five, he's worth chancing.
As for McLeod, his closing 63 in the Portugal Masters was seriously impressive, though not quite enough to keep his full playing rights.
He soon got them back at Qualifying School, however, and a decent showing in the WGC-HSBC Champions in-between those two performances suggests he's one to follow over the coming weeks.
Granted, he's much more likely to go and win the Australian PGA Championship, but this elite driver of the ball is a player I like and, in this company, arriving in form, he's another I have to have on-side.
Posted at 2115 GMT on 25/11/19
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