It does seem strange but this week’s Nelson Mandela Championship is the first event on the European Tour schedule for 2013. True the host Royal Durban course is not in Europe and it is not yet 2013 but the virtual 12 month long span of the European Tour begins with this event co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour in South Africa.
The favourite is Branden Grace, the South African player who won four times in Europe last year and made more progress up the world rankings than just about any player on one of the global Tours. Grace secured his card at the 2011 Qualifying School and proceeded to become the most prolific golfer of 2012.
Grace is a worthy favourite but this is a player who has yet to play competitively at this week’s venue. Of the other home players George Coetzee looks an interesting contender. He finished 21st on the Race to Dubai last season and has a great opportunity to secure a maiden European Tour win.
Another player worth considering is Englishman John Parry. He earned his playing privileges for this season by winning last week’s Qualifying School. He has now won events on the Challenge Tour, European Tour and Final Qualifying so arrives in South Africa full of confidence after securing his card for the current season.
Tim Clark (pictured) won the prestigious Player’s Championship on the US PGA Tour in 2010, against the strongest field of the year. No other player has comparable form in this week’s field and Clark is also a proven winner in South Africa, the country where he was born.
The Royal Durban Golf Course is a links course so the elements will play a part in determining the outcome of the event. Sea breezes and even winds can affect the playing conditions and short term variations in the weather influence the difficulty of the course. That feature is negated somewhat by the two tee starting times which means more players will be dealing with similar weather.
Grace won the Dunhill Links Championship on the European Tour in October. This pro-am event is played over three links course on the east coast of Scotland, including the world renowned Old Course at St Andrews. Grace clearly relishes the demands of seaside golf and that makes him an even more likely winner in South Africa this week.