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Bjorn and Manassero aiming to start Ryder Cup year with a bang

It’s a Ryder Cup year again and everything any top player does on both sides of the Atlantic from now on in will be seen in terms of points and places in the prize-money tables.

And nobody will be more desperate to be pegging up against the USA at Gleneagles next September than European Tour veteran Thomas Bjorn, one of 36 players kicking off the year in the Volvo Golf Champions Tournament in Durban this weekend.

Bjorn, 11/1 third best in Coral’s market behind hot favourite Charl Schwarzel (3/1) and Jamie Donaldson (10/1) has been an assistant Ryder Cup captain on more occasions than he has actually performed in the event, but played so well in 2013 that he is now entertaining realistic hopes of being involved again with his clubs..

Most of the heroes of Medinah 2012 are odds-on with Coral to defend the trophy, but players like Bjorn (2/1) and Donaldson (11/8) are in with a big shout of breaking into the team if they have a good year and that goes, too, for the likes of former world number four Paul Casey and rising French star Victor Dubuisson (both 3/1), also in action in South Africa.

The Dane has always been a class act, but has sometimes had trouble believing it himself. He’s 42 now, but that’s roughly the same age as the last three Open winners, Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, while Miguel Angel Jimenez is still a Tour winner at 50.

The good South African players – and there are plenty of them – usually dominate on their own soil and their leading man Schwarzel has some impressive back up in Branden Grace (18/1) and Louis Oosthuizen (16/1), winners of this event in 2012 and 2013,

Grace recovered from an opening 75 to finish in the top ten in his last tournament, while of course we know all about Oosthuizen, who overcame a five-shot deficit to triumph 12 months ago.

Winner of the Open in 2010 and runner-up in the 2012 US Masters, Oosthuizen suffered with a back injury for much of last year, but if he’s fit enough to do himself full justice he will be a danger to everyone.

At under 7,000 yards, the Durban Country Club is one of the shorter courses on the circuit and may well be made to measure for somebody like Matteo Manassero.

The young Italian – 28/1 to win outright, 20/1 without Schwarzel, 11/2 to finish in the top four and 6/4 in the top ten – is more about precision than power and this might well be his week as he, too, dreams of representing Europe in the Ryder Cup (7/2 with Coral).