Just a Canter for England in Mauritius


2pts each-way Laurie Canter @ 14/1
1pt each-way Tom McKibbin @ 28/1
1pt each-way Alejandro Canizares @ 60/1
0.5pts each-way Thomas Bjorn @ 150/1
0.5pts each-way Oliver Bekker @ 16/1

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We got the nationality right about last week’s Leopard Creek winner but that’s about all. With obvious choices Charl Schwartzel, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace failing to deliver for South Africa, it was left to 150/1 journeyman Ockie Strydom to ease home and therein lies a clue to this week’s top Mauritius Open pick.

This modest little affair at new venue Mont Choisy, a cosy resort par 72 course measuring only 7056 yards, wraps up the DP World Tour year in 84F-degree bliss, hopefully with a decent-priced British winner in nearly man Laurie Canter.

The Bath 33-year-old is a superior version of Strydom and has been a contender for years at a far higher level than Mauritius but without winning. Strydom never had a DP World Tour until now but had played 271 times on the weaker Sunshine Tour with only one modest success three years ago on the W column but, like Canter, has proved good at finishing runner-up, a position the 37-year-old has frustratingly filled 19 times.

Both have spurned big chances in the past, both failed to maximise winning situations until Strydom found the key to unlocking a European card at the Alfred Dunhill, nervelessly holding on from the front as if he’d been doing it all his long career.

Canter came from way off to pace to nip into third place behind Strydom on Sunday but by then the bird had flown. That birdie rush indicates he’s close to his best and that best features a Wentworth second to American ace Billy Horschel in top company at last year’s BMW PGA.

That helped persuade the Saudi billionaires to invest in this serial non-winner and he played a full series with LIV, recording his best performances towards the end of the eight-tournament programme when 11th in Chicago (held a big winning chance going into the final round) and Bangkok.

Now comes the crunch and there can be no excuses in a field denuded of most of the South African heavyweights who are staying at home. Two who will be there are PGA Tour player Dean Burmester and nine-time Sunshine Tour winner Oliver Bekker. Both had chances at Leopard Creek but couldn’t take them. Even so, they are among the main dangers, with Bekker in particular being suited by the course.

Favouritism, however, is held by stylish Belgian Thomas Detry, a perennial loser who went out in the last Sunday group at the Nedbank with an outstanding opportunity to break his duck but played lamentably, shooting a 77. Why would you even think of backing him at skinny odds like 11/2?

Well, he did string together some high finishes on the PGA Tour after gaining his card in the USA. Even though they weren’t great tournaments, he looked a classy operator and many American judges were impressed. But while great swings can help make great golfers, you need a great heart as well. I shudder to think how much he has cost his supporters as he hits 30.

Detry was fourth to Rasmus Hojgaard in Mauritius when this year-ender was last held in 2020 but that was on a different course. This week they are playing in the north of the island at Grand Baie on a flat, water-strewn course laid out by former SA tour pro Peter Matkovich, now a leading golf architect in that part of the world.

With five par fives, all comfortably reachable in two, and five par threes, Mont Choisy looks as if it is there to be taken by steady operators who can hit fairways and are hot with their irons on the short holes.

At the risk of looking stupid – nothing new there – I’m putting up former Ryder Cup star and captain Thomas Bjorn at huge odds. The 51-year-old Dane blitzed the Legends Tour Championship in Mauritius at the weekend, shooting a 61 in round two and sailing home by seven.

Obviously this is a harder test but he showed a bit of main-tour form when 25th at the Italian Open and as long as he can summon up the energy for four rounds carrying all the extra poundage he has accumulated from years of good living, it’s not impossible he could waddle into a place.

Frenchman Antoine Rozner has a good record in Mauritius – runner-up in 2020, seventh in 2019 – but let us down too badly last week to put up again so soon and at almost twice Rozner’s odds I would sooner give Northern Ireland teenager Tom McKibbin a whirl.

Still 19 until Monday, this slim kid is going to be a star when he fills out a bit and strengthens up. He has already shown enormous potential, following up a sixth in the Challenge Tour Grand Final with a trio of main- tour top-20s in South Africa. One to keep an eye on for 2023 … and maybe sooner.

In similarly good form in Australia where he finished fourth in their Open and 12th in the PGA, Alejandro Canizares badly needs Race To Dubai points. He could give himself an early 40th birthday present – he hits that milestone on January 3 – by creating a 60/1 surprise here while I wouldn’t rule out a quick follow-up from Strydom now he’s got the taste for it.

But let’s see out 2022 with a 14/1 winner in Canter and look forward to a sackful more in 2023. Wishing you all a cool Christmas – talk about a cert! – and see you next for the Tournament of Champions in sunny Hawaii the new year.

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