I accurately predicted a South African would win last week's Alfred Dunhill Championship, the season-opening European Tour event in South Africa. I just happened to pick the wrong one.
My choice was defending champion Branden Grace, who was the +400 favorite. He finished a solid T8, but the winner was countryman Charl Schwartzel, who finished at 15-under 273 to beat out France's Gregory Bourdy by four shots. I knew Schwartzel, the +600 second-favorite, had the best track record of any player at that tournament but he hadn't been playing great in 2015. Yet he won the event for the fourth time and now has finished in the top two in eight of his 11 appearances in Malelane with an aggregate score of 122 under par.
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Schwartzel became the first South African to win an official European Tour event four times and the third of his countrymen to win 10 total events behind Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. All three of those guys have won majors. Outside of the Alfred Dunhill Championship, Schwartzel had not won since the 2011 Masters. Six of his past seven wins have now come in South Africa. Schwartzel is the eighth player on the European Tour to win the same event four times and only third to win four or more on the same course.
So my wins last week were on Grace at -250 for a Top 10, Joost Luiten (-120) over Ricardo Gouveia (-110), and Bourdy (-115) over Alexander Levy (-115).
The European Tour this week has two events, the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa and the Australian PGA Championship, before it takes the rest of December off. So I'll head back to the USA and look at the silly-season (unofficial for Tour points or money but does count toward world rankings points) Hero World Challenge, most likely my final golf preview of 2015. This tournament has had several tournament names but it's hosted by Tiger Woods and benefits his foundation. This year, it moves from Isleworth outside Orlando to the Els-designed Albany Championship Golf Course, which plays about 7,400 yards, at a luxury resort community in the Bahamas. Tiger has won this event five times but won't be playing as he's still recovering from back surgery. He will be there to serve as the host, so he must be feeling better. It's hard to fathom that Woods is currently the No. 400 player in the world.
It's an invite-only field of just 18 golfers, led by world No. 1 Jordan Spieth, who is the defending champion. He tees it off Thursday morning with playing partner Anirban Lahiri, the first Indian-born player in this event. The rest of the field, in alphabetical order, is: Paul Casey, Rickie Fowler, Bill Haas, J.B. Holmes, Billy Horschel, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Chris Kirk, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Jimmy Walker and Bubba Watson (Watson replaced Jason Day, who is spending time with his newborn). That's a strong group. The Albany Golf Club course is quite unusual -- it has labeled itself a desert links. Makes for some unusual scenery.
Golf Odds: Hero World Challenge Favorites
Spieth is the +330 favorite at Bovada, and his record-setting 2014-15 campaign really began in this tournament. Spieth didn't shoot a round worse than 67 last year in finishing at 26-under 262, a whopping 10 shots ahead of second-place Henrik Stenson. Spieth went 43 straight holes without a bogey and led wire-to-wire. The 10-shot victory was the largest margin of the year in golf and broke the tournament record of seven shots that Woods had in 2007. In his previous tournament before the Hero World Challenge, Spieth won the Australian Open by six shots. That event was last week Down Under and Spieth finished second by one shot to Aussie Matt Jones. Spieth needed to eagle the final hole to get into a playoff and almost did.
Dustin Johnson is +650. He was on his "sabbatical" at this time last year and didn't play in this tournament. He's a big hitter and that should benefit him here; Johnson should have won majors at both Whistling Straits and Chambers Bay, two similar courses. Rose is also +650 with Watson and Fowler at +1000. The long shots are Walker, Kirk and Horschel at +5000.
Golf Odds: Hero World Challenge Picks
Obviously no Top-10 props this week, but the site does offer Top 4. I'll go with Spieth (-125), Dustin Johnson (+125) and Rose (+150), who owns property nearby. Head-to-head, I like Walker (-115) over Horschel (-115), Koepka (-120) over Holmes (-110), Zach Johnson (-115) over Kuchar (-115), Matsuyama (-120) over Reed (-110), and Scott (-120) over Casey (-110).
My winner is Dustin Johnson, who is +400 to be the top American. He's overdue a victory as Johnson hasn't won since March at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. Johnson also played well in his most recent start in China with a T5.
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