Branden Grace talks to the media ahead of Nelson Mandela Championship at Royal Durban Golf Club.

Durban – In-form golfer Branden Grace insists there is no telling what can happen at this week’s Nelson Mandela Championship that begins in Durban on Thursday.

“Whether you’re the favourite or the underdog, I think I’ve proved this year that anything can happen,” Grace, who won four European Tour events last season, said on Wednesday.

The tournament marks the start of the new European Tour season.

The world No 36 is the highest ranked player that will line up at the Royal Durban Golf Club and is among the leading contenders for the R1.8 million first prize.

Others expected to challenge for the inaugural title – the first of a record six co-sanctioned European and Sunshine Tour events to be played in South Africa during the 2013 season – are George Coetzee, Garth Mulroy and Richard Sterne.

Among the leading European contenders were Englishman John Parry, last week’s Qualifying School winner, and Norwegian Espen Kofstad, who topped the Challenge Tour rankings in 2012.

Rain on Wednesday led to the cancellation of the Pro-Am, meaning most of the 156-man field had little practice time on the course, which has a unique setting in the middle of Greyville racecourse.

“I haven’t been out – I played five holes yesterday – which was nice, but that’s it,” Grace said.

“I was counting on going out during the Pro-Am and seeing the course and things, but now the weather has changed.”

The tournament was also the penultimate one in the Sunshine Tour calendar, and with the local Order of Merit yet to be decided.

Grace, 24, headed the charts, while Coetzee was also well-placed to challenge.

“If the conditions are bad then I think the Europeans have almost a better chance than the South African guys,” he said.

“We’re both up for the challenge, and for the last couple of months we’ve been joking around about which is mine and which is his. It’s going to be a good couple of weeks.”

Coetzee, the world No 49, also enjoyed a progressive 2012 season, despite an elusive first win evading him.

He managed eight top 10 finishes, the highest being second at the SA Open a few weeks earlier.

“I’m not particularly worried about it. I want to win badly, but the way my season went, I played well, I was in contention a lot and I felt like I didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Coetzee said.

“When I was in contention and still didn’t win I still enjoyed the game, and I’m playing the best golf of my life, and I feel it’s just around the corner.” – Sapa