Dan Roebuck’s Tournament of Champions preview – Schwartzel fancied

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A healthy increase in prize money has ensured a strong turnout for the first European Tour event of 2014, as the Race to Dubai resumes with the Volvo Golf Champions tournament at Durban Country Club.

The winner will pocket over €500,000 this week and while punters will be looking for a more modest return, there is plenty to suggest that backers rather than layers can get the upper hand.

Charl Schwartzel is the 3/1 favourite to win on home fairways for what would be the eighth time in his career.

The 2012 Masters champion has won two of his last six starts – which I guess justifies his current price – and has good, if not winning, form at this week’s venue, with top four finishes in each of the last two South African Opens staged at this short, old fashioned layout, plus another place effort in last term’s renewal of this event.

Four consecutive top six finishes – three of which saw him ranked inside the top 10 of the putting average – means he just cannot be ignored.

Last year seven of the top eight players ranked inside the top ten in putting average while in the 2010 South African Open, which was also held at Durban CC and won by Ernie Els, the top two (one of whom was Schwartzel) in that stats category were placed in the top four of the event.

When Louis Oosthuizen won 12 months ago he was in terrific form in the run up to the tournament. So, if current form is key, the two other players you must back are 12/1-rated duo Jamie Donaldson and Thomas Bjorn.

The Welshman has form figures of 8-2-8-2 in his last four starts while the Dane comes into this week off the back of a runners up spot in the World Cup and a victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Both have form at Durban, with Donaldson boasting 15th place at the course when it staged the South African open as far back as 2002, while 12 months ago he finished with a Sunday 66.

Bjorn, meanwhile, was ninth here last year.

And if good putting is a prerequisite for success, both players have shown an assured and confident touch on the putting surfaces towards the end of last year.

The prices for the trio aren’t as big as usual due to the restricted 36-man field, but they still represent the best value.

So it’s Schwartzel, Donaldson and Bjorn for me.

All odds and markets accurate as of publication’s time and date

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