After three weeks in the Middle East and three weeks in Asia, the European Tour sniffs out some more sunshine with a three-week stint in South Africa.
The Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington County Club is the fourth of the six South African events on this year’s European Tour schedule. It’s followed by the Africa Open which runs parallel to the WGC-Cadillac Championship and concludes with the Tshwane Open.
This is the ninth time the Joburg Open has been co-sanctioned.
In terms of format, think Farmers Insurance Open. Two courses are in operation, with the harder East course used on the weekend. Players will look to cash in on their one lap of the easier West.
The last five winners have been big-name South Africans while home players account for six of the eight champions.
2014 George Coetzee (-19)
2013 Richard Sterne (-27)
2012 Branden Grace (-17)
2011 Charl Schwartzel (-19)
2010 Charl Schwartzel (-23)
2009 Anders Hansen (-15)
2008 Richard Sterne (-13)
2007 Ariel Canete (-19)
The East course at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington County Club has staged eight previous South African Opens and is a lengthy 7,590-yard par 72. Its 10th and 11th holes claim to be the longest back-to-back par 4s in the world (write or call in if you know a venue that can beat 474 + 457 = 931). Water? The East has a 2.5km long stream and 11 ponds. The easier West course measures in at a shorter 7,237 yards and offers plenty of birdie opportunities. Both tracks feature tree-lined kikuyu fairways and have L93 Bent & Poa greens.
A massive 210 players take part this week. Another record? The top three finishers will win a place in The Open Championship at St Andrews (if not already qualified).
It’s the rainy season in Johannesburg and the wet stuff forms part of the forecast for the first three days of the tournament. Temperatures start at a healthy 80 degrees on Thursday but gradually drop throughout the week to 70 on Sunday. The trade-off is that that the final round is set to be rain-free. There may also be some sunny spells Thursday-Sunday.
Current form counts
The last five winners had advertised their chances in the build-up.
2014 George Coetzee – 4th Qatar, 5th Abu Dhabi in previous two starts
2013 Richard Sterne – Runner-up in Dubai on previous start
2012 Branden Grace – 14th and 9th in two previous co-sanctioned South African events
2011 Charl Schwartzel – Form figures of 4-4-2 in three previous events in South Africa
2010 Charl Schwartzel – Winner of previous week’s Africa Open
Looking for a well-known South African in good form is a smart, if obvious, play. The problem is, not many fit that bill this week! Regardless, the home challenge is the logical place to start….
The Leading South Africans
After previous finishes of 7-14-3 in this event and numerous near-misses in other European Tour tournaments, Coetzee finally got the job done by winning here last year. He’s not in the same sort of form he was 12 months ago but a T12 in Qatar was decent while he warmed up for this by finishing T16 in last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am (a South African Sunshine Tour event) where he topped the GIR stats with 83.3%.
A two-time winner of this event (2008 and 2013) so is he in shape to put his name on the trophy for a third time? It’s a ‘no’ judged on his recent PGA TOUR form which shows missed cuts at Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines and La Quinta. Sterne fared better on the Gulf Swing with a T37 in Abu Dhabi while he was T20 (South African Open) and T11 (Alfred Dunhill) on home turf. Either side of his win here in 2013 he failed to cash so the six-time European Tour champ can be hit-and-miss in this event.
Aiken has plenty to recommend him this week. He was fifth in his home South African Open last month and also T9 in the Dubai Desert Classic. Course form? How about 5-6-24-3 in his last four appearances. The concern is a missed cut in the Malaysian Open and also a WD from last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am at the midpoint following rounds of 69-73. He offers no clues on his Twitter page which hasn’t been updated since Feb 4.
Jaco van Zyl
After describing 2014 as ‘a year to forget’, van Zyl may be finding his feet again. The evidence is a third place in last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am where he shot four solid rounds. A three-time winner on the Sunshine Tour in 2013 (he has 14 overall), van Zyl has shown up strongly in this event and has two third places and another three tops 12s.
The local man started 65-65 in last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am and was still leading after a third-round 72. But a 75 on Sunday doesn’t normally get it done and he slipped to third. A 13-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, his last victory came in the co-sanctioned Africa Open in 2013. He was also a winner on the European Tour in 2012. His form in this event is surprisingly modest though. Fichardt is 5-for-7 but he’s never managed better than T25.
Tjaart Van Der Walt
If it’s an in-form South African you’re looking for (and you should be), try the 40-year-old from Pretoria. He was third in the Dimension Data Pro-Am on Sunday and also banked top 10s in two of his previous three Sunshine Tour starts. In this event, he has a T7 (2011) and a T17 (2010) on the books. A trawl through his past results even shows a second place in the PGA TOUR’s Buick Championship. We all remember that, don’t we (furrows brow).
The South African is a two-time runner-up in this event. He was beaten by Richard Sterne in 2008 and was denied victory by Charl Schwartzel in 2011. A T9 in 2013 again showed his liking for the course. Mulroy’s CV boasts a European Tour win (2011 Alfred Dunhill Championship) and two Web.com Tour wins (2009 South Georgia Classic and 2011 BMW Charity Pro-Am) while he shot a final-round 66 to finish T16 in last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am.
Both course and current form suggest Horne could be one of the home players to keep a close eye on. He won the 54-hole Vodacom Origins – Final in November (one of two Sunshine Tour wins in 2014) and was runner-up in last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am. He’s cashed in his last six starts in this event and was second in 2010 (shot a closing 64) and sixth in 2013 (R4 65).
Danie Van Tonder
Deserves a close look on several counts. Firstly, he’s finished T19th (2013) and T9 (2014) in the last two editions of this event. Secondly, he’s reeled off seven top 10s in his last 11 Sunshine Tour starts, the most recent a third place in Sunday’s Dimension Data Pro-Am. The 23-year-old looks to have a bright future and could be a big player this week.
Dawie Van Der Walt
The giant South African, who played his golf at Lamar University in Texas, won two co-sanctioned events in 2013 (Tshwane Open and Nelson Mandela Championship) so should always be on the radar when the European Tour heads to his backyard. Less positive is the google prompt when you type in his name. He has form in this event as well with a third place in 2013 and a T9 in 2008. In addition, he was 3-for-3 on the Gulf Swing and finished T24 in the Dimension Data Pro-Am on Sunday.
Another South African to consider for the 10-pick European Tour fantasy game. Walters shot an opening 65 and a third-round 64 when finishing runner-up in this event 12 months ago and was also T16 in 2013. His latest form is rather feast-or-famine with four missed cuts and two other finishes of T11 and T9. The latter came at the Dimension Data Pro-Am on Sunday.
Kruger has his moments but they’re not happening just now. He’s cashed just once in five starts and has nothing better than a T50 in seven outings in 2015. The again, the corpse twitched with a 69-69-70 start to the Malaysian Open two tournaments ago so we shouldn’t condemn him yet. Kruger is 5-for-6 in this event and was T9 in 2012.
A player that can go low and feature on leaderboards in these co-sanctioned events. He was a winner on the South African Sunshine Tour as recently as October (BMG Classic) and also T14 in last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am. That’s the good news. The bad is his woeful record in this event which shows five missed cuts out of seven and a best of T50.
The fit-again Swede has issued a signal of intent on his first four starts in 2015. After shaking the rust with a T37 in Abu Dhabi, he was T9 in Qatar, runner-up to Rory in Dubai and 11th in the True Thailand Classic. He’s had just one previous go at this tournament but did well, finishing T13 in 2011 after shooting all four rounds under par. Currently 10th in the Race to Dubai, he’s a must in the European Tour’s 10-pick fantasy format.
Bourdy’s numbers so far this season are pretty much on a par with Noren’s. He started with a T37 in Abu Dhabi and, since then, has had a pair of top fives in Qatar and Malaysia along with a T13 in Dubai. The Frenchman, who is 22nd on the current Race to Dubai, was also a healthy T16 in this event last year after missing the cut on debut in 2013.
Already a winner in this neck of the woods in 2015 after a breakthrough first European Tour victory at the South African Open. He’s since added a T19 in Qatar and a top four in Dubai so no wonder we keep seeing the Englishman smiling his way around the course. Adding to his credentials is a fifth place in this tournament last year when closing with a 65.
A quiet star on the Gulf Swing where he finished 12th in Abu Dhabi, 5th in Qatar and 13th in Dubai. The 2009 U.S. Amateur champion was actually leading in the final round in Qatar after a flying start so his rookie season on the European Tour has started with a bang. He did actually play in this event last year and, despite finishing a modest T59, it’s worth noting that the 23-year-old was ninth going into the final round.
The Englishman was T10 in this event last year after missing the cut on his previous two visits so knows the lie of the land. Before taking three weeks off, the man named after you know who had shown some encouraging form on the Gulf Swing. Benson closed with a pair of 69s fo finish T19 in Qatar and was third at halfway in the Dubai Desert Classic after a 66-66 start before fading to T35 after a disappointing weekend.
The Italian has cashed in seven of his last eight starts but hasn’t broken 70 in his last 13 rounds. As you’d expect, that failure to find an extra gear has led to a series of midfield finishes and nothing better than a T28 since September. His course form is along similar lines. He’s 5-for-5 but, apart from a T8 on debut in 2007, he hasn’t cracked the top 30.
The winner of the 2013 South African Open has cashed in his last 13 events in South Africa and 10 of those were top 25s. Unfortunately, the exception to the rule is this tournament where the Dane has missed the cut on both starts. Some encouraging recent form – 12th Abu Dhabi, 4th Dubai, 25th Malaysia – suggests we lean more towards his overall record in South Africa and expect good things.
Wall has finished T37 (2012) and T10 (2014) in his two starts in the Joburg Open and is 4-for-5 on the 2015 European Tour. The veteran Englishman was T12 in Abu Dhabi, T15 in Thailand and T35 in both the Dubai Desert Classic and last week’s Indian Open. He’s cashed on his last five starts in South Africa so looks a reliable option.
With a sixth place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship and another top six in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the young Englishman was threatening to take the European Tour by storm but he’s since gone off the boil with a run of MC-55-MC. What better way to spark him back to life than a return to Joburg where he was T2 in this event last year after a closing 66. It remains his best finish on the European Tour.
Another good chance for the big-hitting Belgian to show his wares although he did miss the cut on debut here last year (75-73). Pieters is 5-for-5 on the 2015 European Tour and that includes a T8 in the Alfred Dunhill Championship on his last start on South African soil and a fourth in Abu Dhabi. He was T16 in the Malaysian Open on his most recent outing.
Who’s On The Team
No-one jumps off the page as a famous and in-form South African so we have to compromise a little.
George Coetzee has just about enough form to get him in but also try three relatively familiar Springboks, who head to Joburg on the back of a good result.
Jaco van Zyl, Justin Walters and Tjaart Van Der Walt all finished in the top 10 of last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am and perform well in this event. All three are listed in the European Tour fantasy game.
Two players unavailable for selection are Keith Horne and Danie Van Tonder but, for bettors, both look good each-way options.
Beyond the South Africans, in-form Byeong-Hun An has some hidden course form and is definitely worth getting onside.
I’ll list all 10 picks for the European Tour’s Fantasy game in the ‘Playing The Tips’ feature on Tuesday
One To Fade
Darren Fichardt will be used by many this week but, for a player of his quality at this level, never making the top 20 in seven starts in this event suggests these courses are no friend of his.