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By Matt Cooper Last updated: 12th January 2010

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Tipster Matt Cooper fancies a Great Dane can tame Leopard Creek in the first event of the 2010 Race to Dubai.

Anders Hansen shown here with the Joburg trophy.

Anders Hansen shown here with the Joburg trophy.

The 2010 European Tour Race to Dubai starts this week amongst the wildlife and dramatic scenery of Leopard Creek GC in South Africa.

The Alfred Dunhill Championship has been played at this venue for the last five years and it has always tended to suit quality ball-strikers.

That said it is also associated with one of the worst examples of ball-striking in Tour history - the ugly finish to Ernie Els' round in 2007 that saw him find water twice on the way to a final hole triple bogey eight that turned a two shot lead into a one shot defeat.

If we concentrate on good, rather than bad, ball-striking, Denmark's Anders Hansen has to enter the equation.

He's been one of the more reliable European Tour players from tee to green for nearly ten years now and he's also worth bearing in mind because he loves playing golf in South Africa.

Indeed he very nearly won this event when it was played at Houghton and was only defeated by England's Mark Foster after a mammoth six man play-off.

The following year he added two more top ten finishes in the this event and South African Open but he then spent five years away from the country.

His return earlier this year was supposed to be nothing more than an early season workout with his South African coach Jamie Gough but he promptly won the Joburg Open so he went back a few weeks later to claim the Vodacom Championship and then finish sixth in the Telkom PGA Championship.

When I bumped into Gough earlier this year he told me that Anders loves South Africa so it was little surprise to see him return for a pre-Christmas fortnight of golf.

He is yet to play at Leopard Creek but the course really should suit him and his end of year form has been good.

He finished fifth in the Singapore Open, ranked fifth for greens in regulation in Hong Kong and played some solid golf in the Dubai World Championship.

I wouldn't want to back him at 25/1 in a higher class event, but in this field, on this course, in this country, it's much more attractive.

The Alfred Dunhill company are good friends to the European Tour, sponsoring two events each year, and at the last one, the Links event in St Andrew's, I was chatting to a South African journalist who was raving about the return to form of Darren Fichardt.

"He totally lost it for a bit," he told me, "just couldn't buy a swing. But he's put in the hard work and he's playing beautifully right now.

"He won a Vodacom Origins event last week (September 20) and that's his second win of the year. I think he's back."

Since that conversation Fichardt has continued to play well and even added a third win of the year in the Platinum Classic in early November.

There can be little doubt that the lower reaches of the Sunshine Tour are a different prospect to the European Tour, but on the other hand this is a co-sanctioned event so the field isn't too frightening and Fichardt is no raw youngster.

In fact he's a double winner on the European Tour with a best win in the 2003 Qatar Masters.

He's also got form at Leopard Creek because he won the Sunshine Tour Championship there in 2001 and was fourth in this event in 2006.

His confidence must be sky high and he'll be eager to get back amongst the top players in the world so I'm keen to support him at 66/1.

Next tip is Spain's Alejandro Canizares who made it through Q-School last week.

It took Canizares all season to register his first top ten finish and when it finally came, in the JBWere Masters in Melbourne, it was nowhere enough to save his card.

But it proved he was in form and he duly showed his class in finishing fourth with relatively little fuss - the highlights being rounds of 61 and 65 in the middle of a what is usually a fraught week for most.

His career has stalled a little since he won on just his fourth European Tour start in 2006 but his long game has always impressed me and, like Hansen, he should be suited by the challenge.

At 66/1 I'm more than happy to include him in the plan.

Finally I'm opting for another local, Richard Sterne.

His form hasn't been too hot recently but I just can't get away from his record in the co-sanctioned tournaments in South Africa: he has won three of his last four starts in such events, including this event 12 months ago.

His form will worry some but he and Rory Sabbatini did finish seventh in the World Cup a couple of weeks ago and although he was the only player to finish over par in last week's Nedbank Challenge he has never liked that course.

Sometimes you have to take a chance on something and at 33/1 I'm willing to put Sterne's course form, record in these events and class, ahead of his form.

Tips:

1pt e.w. Anders Hansen at 25/1 (William Hill ¼ 1,2,3,4,5). Loves South Africa and should be suited by the ball-striking test.

1pt e.w. Darren Fichardt at 66/1 (Betfred, SportingBet, Ladbrokes ¼ 1,2,3,4,5). Re-discovered form and a former course winner.

1pt e.w. Alejandro Canizares at 66/1 (Ladbrokes, Coral, SportingBet¼ 1,2,3,4,5). Found form in time to gain 2010 card and wants to capitalise.

1pt e.w. Richard Sterne at 33/1 (Betfred ¼ 1,2,3,4,5). Trusting class and course record ahead of current form.

RESULT:

Hansen 3rd at 25/1

PROFIT+2.56pts

Matt Cooper



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