Despite its rich history, the BMW South African Open wouldn’t normally register too strongly with the average golf fan.
But 2017 is different thanks to the surprise presence of Rory McIlroy.
Rory is making good on a promise to the tournament’s player-host Ernie Els, returning the favour after the South African played in the 2015 Irish Open which was hosted by McIlroy’s Foundation.
“I can’t wait to come back to play in South Africa – it’s been a while since I was there;” said McIlroy, who hasn’t teed it up in South Africa since 2008. “Ernie’s done such a great job of assembling a great field. Obviously we’re also there to support a great cause in Els for Autism.”
Defending his title at the 106th edition of the South African Open is local star Brandon Stone.
The youngster already has a victory on the European Tour on this 2016/2017 wraparound season having won the first of the three events contested before Christmas – the Alfred Dunhill Championship which was also played in South Africa.
This week’s South African Open – the second oldest national Open in world golf no less – will once again be played at Glendower. That gives gamers/punters three years of course form as it’s been the host venue since 2014.
The official European Tour Fantasy game isn’t on offer this week so we’ll await news for when they launch. Previously it had been the start of the Desert Swing in Abu Dhabi (later this month) although last year, due to a revamp in format, we had to wait until the Masters.
Glendower GC measures 7,594 yards although plays much shorter than that due to being located 5,000 feet above sea level. The par 72 has the standard mix of four par 5s, four par 3s and 10 par 4s. Last year the 220-yard par-3 3rd hole was ranked the hardest hole on the course while the 547-yard par-5 15th the easiest, playing to just 4.19. It’s a tree-lined parkland layout featuring kikuyu grass fairways and Bentgrass greens while water is in play on 11 holes.
Past winners, scores and stats
2015 -14 Brandon Stone (DD: 13, DA: 59, GIR: 10, Src: 65, PA: 3)
2015 -11 Andy Sullivan (DD: 18, DA: 41, GIR: 31, Src: 5, PA: 1)
2014 -19 Morten Orum Madsen (DD: 14, DA: 66, GIR: 5, Src: 28, PA: 17)
Notes: All three winners finished in the top 20 for Driving Distance but winning paths veered from there. Madsen and Stone both hit lots of greens but Sullivan’s victory was forged on a red-hot short game. Although Europeans won in 2014 and 2015, seven of the first nine home last year, including winner Stone, were local South Africans. Going back to last year, five of the last seven European Tour events played in South Africa have been won by a home player. McIlroy will be a big threat to that stat of course.
Glendower is found in Ekurhuleni, one of the five districts of the Guateng province. Its inland location means plenty of sunshine and temperatures will hover around the 80 degrees mark this week. As is usual for this part of the world though, there is a t-storm threat on all four days. Friday is forecast to be the worst day with rain and thunderstorms likely. Winds are mostly modest although it could get gusty in Sunday’s final round.
The Leading Contenders
There are two obvious questions to ask about Rory this week. Does he have any good form in South Africa and how well does he usually start a calendar year? To answer the former, you need to go back nine years although the news is positive as a teenage Rory finished third in the 2008 South African Open at Pearl Valley. As for Rory’s past results in his first start of the year, reading back from 2016 they are: 3-2-2-MC-2-2. All those came in Abu Dhabi so he’ll hope in this weaker field he can get a ‘1’ on the board. The other variable is that he’ll have new Callaway woods and irons in his bag this week.
The defending champion and also the winner of the last European Tour event held in South Africa (early December’s Alfred Dunhill Championship). Although some of these are local Sunshine Tour tournaments, Stone can now boast three wins and two second places in his last 11 starts in South Africa so he deserves to be ranked as the biggest threat to Rory. He won at this venue last year (by three shots) after carding 71-67-65-71.
It’s no surprise to see the Englishman in the field as he claimed his first two European Tour wins in South Africa. The first came at this venue in the 2015 South African Open and although he missed the cut when defending he again showed his affinity for the country when placing third in the Nedbank Golf Challenge back in November. After ending 2016 with two top threes in his final four starts, Sullivan should be in a good place to hit the ground running.
The South African shot three 70s and a 71 to crack the top five in this event last year and that added to T17 in his other appearance at the course. Overall, he’s broken par in all eight laps of Glendower. Aiken currently slots in at 18th on the 2017 Race to Dubai after banking T4 in the Alfred Dunhill Championship while perhaps the strongest stat is that Aiken’s last five finishes in his national Open are 5-17-3-3-14.
Another of the home contingent with bags of experience although his record in this event is consistent but frustrating. Van Zyl has made his last 14 cuts in the South African Open and banked five top 20s but he’s never bettered T12. At least that peak came on this course (2013) while last year’s T18 when he opened with a 65 offers further encouragement. He’s teeing it up for the first time since T25 in December’s Australian PGA Championship.
Coetzee was runner-up in the 2012 South African Open at Serengeti but two efforts at Glendower have produced a pair of missed cuts. That’s a concern although in the positive ledger is that two of his three European Tour wins have come on home soil. He generally thrives when the European Tour heads to South Africa but maybe this is not the course on which to play him.
It’s a course debut for the English veteran, who enjoyed his best ever season on the European Tour last year by finishing 28th (never previously higher than 65th). He does have some spots of good form in South Africa with a top five in the 2014 Africa Open and T10 at the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Championship and a repeat of last year’s form would make him a challenger again although a first win at this level still eludes him.
Since 2014, Horsey has a third, two other top 10s and a T14 in European Tour events held in South Africa although his only start at Glendower resulted in an early exit after a pair of 75s. He’ll hope to pick up the form he showed at the end of 2016. In Horsey’s final nine starts he had a second, fourth and fifth and three other top 15s, concluded by T13 in the DP World Tour Championship.
Is this the season when Uihlein gets back to being the player we thought he might become? After injury and loss for form wrecked his 2016, the American ended a trying campaign with T14 in the Hong Kong Open. He hasn’t played Glendower previously but in other starts in South Africa he boasts a top four in the Tshwane Open and T10 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. They both came back in 2013, the same year he finished 14th on the Race to Dubai.
The Next Rung
Not the most familiar name to European Tour audiences although those with good memories may recall the young South African finishing runner-up to compatriot Brandon Stone in this event last year. He had a chance to win too, eventually ending just two back. Since then, he’s managed a win (October) and a second (November) in Sunshine Tour events so he could certainly be one to watch here again.
A pair of weekend 69s saw Frittelli crack the top 20 (T18) at this venue last year and he also placed T12 in a 2014 Sunshine Tour event held there. A winner on Europe’s second-tier Challenge Tour last year (August’s Rolex Trophy in Switzerland), the South African hasn’t yet made a big impact at this level but it would be no surprise if he steps up to the plate with a big performance this week.
The 2015 Amateur Champion gained promotion to the European Tour after finishing ninth on the 2016 Challenge Tour. He showed a big flash of his potential when T39 at Augusta National last year and made a bright start to this season when T10 at the Australian PGA Championship in December. This is his debut at Glendower and, in fact, first start in any event in South Africa.
Burmester knows Glendower better than most having played the course eight times competitively, five of those in the Sunshine Tour’s BMG Classic. He put that knowledge to good use last year when T10 and it’s easy to see envisage something similar. Starting with this event, the South African accumulated seven top 10s from his 10 home-soil starts in 2016 and T17 in the co-sanctioned Alfred Dunhill Championship last month suggests he can be prominent again.
The ‘Big Easy’ has had some great times in his national Open, winning it three times - 1997 (Durban), 2007 (Humewood) and 2011 (Durban) - since it gained official European Tour status while he was also successful twice (1992 and 1995) before it became co-sanctioned. He missed the cut at Glendower last year and his role as tournament host shows priorities have now changed. He did post T20 at the course in 2015 but the lack of even a top 40 in 10 starts since July shows that Els isn’t the player he once was.
A bit like Els, Goosen ended 2016 in poor form so it’ll take something of a leap of faith to support him here. Now at 192nd in the world rankings, Goosen has plenty of history in this event and, indeed, some of it is recent after he finished T4 at Glendower in this tournament last year. Can he roll back the years again or are there too many new, shiny, young South Africans to take our interest nowadays?
Otto is a two-time runner-up at Glendower, both those second places coming in 2013 (the first in the BMG and the second in this event). He added T13 in 2015 but had to settle for T45 last year. It’s hard to know what to expect this time however given that the experienced South African was absent through injury from May to November. He returned with T35 in the Cape Town Open.
Walters cashed in big time on the European Tour’s early-season jaunt to South Africa last year. He posted T4 at this event and then followed it with T3 at the Joburg Open and T4 at the Tshwane Open. They were his only top 10s of the season so if you’re going to play him, play him now! He ended 2016 with T29 at the Hong Kong Open although the big South African was fifth going into the final round.
The big-hitting Dane didn’t really kick on in 2016, following his hugely promising 34th on the 2015 Race to Dubai with 74th. He hasn’t played in the last two editions of this event although he did appear at Glendower in 2013 when down the field in T66. He has four top 20s from previous starts in South Africa, a T9 in the 2014 Africa Open his best in a co-sanctioned event in SA.
Big things are expected of the 23-year-old Belgian after he graduated from the Challenge Tour at the first time of asking in 2016. And he’s already made an impact at this level by starting his 2017 campaign with solo third at the Alfred Dunhill Championship. That should promote positive memories for a return to South Africa and his debut in this event.
Although he disappointed in the second half of 2016 and slipped to 80th on the Race to Dubai after 45th in 2015, Slattery warrants respect at this venue. Two years ago, he carded 65-69 on the weekend to grab solo third while he overcame an opening 75 to post T27 last year.
Brooks’ third spot at Glendower 12 months ago was his standout performance of the campaign but if the good vibes return he could be interesting. He’s priced up according to very modest form since then but his T61 in the Hong Kong Open last time did include a second-round 65.
A four-time European Tour winner and the first of those came on South African soil at the 2004 Dunhill Championship. After adding to that with victories in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the German has struggled but there were signs at the back end of 2016 that he could be finding his mojo again.
He’s 0-for-2 at Glendower but the Spaniard banked two top 10s in co-sanctioned events in South Africa in 2015. Otaegui also impressed when T13 in the Turkish Airlines Open in November after lying second at halfway.
After turning pro in 2009, the Swede’s career really took off last year when he graduated to the European Tour after finishing seventh on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Oman. Life at Europe’s top table got off to a fine start via T17 in the Dunhill Championship so he should be chomping at the bit to shine again on his return to South Africa.
He’s a 250/1 shot with the UK bookies despite being a course winner! That came in the Sunshine Tour’s BMG Classic and followed previous placings of second and fourth in that event. Also T17 when it staged this tournament in 2017 although Bremner ended 2016 by missing six of seven cuts.
Who’s On The Team?
This really does look a glorious chance for Rory McIlroy to show his intentions for 2017.
Given his reputation for starting the season fast and playing well after a break, everything points to a big challenge and probably a win although some may be put off by the new clubs and his lack of a run at this venue.
David Horsey finished 2016 in excellent form so is another who warrants an investment.
One To Swerve
He’s done so much for South African golf but playing host this week will surely only hamper Ernie Els’s performance – just as it did last year when he missed the cut.