Brandon Stone became the 35th different South African to win on the European Tour when he took victory at Glendower last week.
The new BMW South African Open champion will seek back-to-back home-soil wins when he contests this week's co-sanctioned Joburg Open.
It's the tournament's 10th anniversary and, once again, it's staged at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington GC.
The title count over the first nine is South Africans 6, Europeans/ROW 3, with England's Andy Sullivan ending a run of five straight home winners when scoring a two-shot success last February (it moves back to a January slot this year for the first time since 2012).
The format matches that of the PGA TOUR's Farmers Insurance Open. Two courses are in operation, with the harder East course used for the final 36 holes. Players will look to cash in on their one lap of the easier West (7,228 yards).
This is the final event before the three-tournament Middle East Swing when the European Tour switches up a gear and the big names come out to play.
The East course at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington County Club has staged all nine previous South African Opens and is a lengthy 7,677-yard par 72 (altitude makes it play less). Its 10th and 11th holes claim to be the longest back-to-back par 4s in the world (518 + 500 = 1,018). Water? The East has a 2.5km long stream and 11 ponds. The easier West course measures in at a shorter 7,228 yards and offers plenty of birdie opportunities. Both tracks feature tree-lined kikuyu fairways and have L93 Bent & Poa greens.
Past winners, scores and stats
2015 -17 Andy Sullivan (DD: 34, DA: 29, GIR: 4, Src: 132, PA: 37)
2014 -19 George Coetzee (DD: 9, DA: 30, GIR: 13, Src: 7, PA: 12)
2013 -27 Richard Sterne (DD: N/A, DA: 17, GIR: 1, Src: 2, PA: 6)
2012 -17 Branden Grace (DD: 4, DA: 53, GIR: 2, Src: 6, PA: 23)
2011 -19 Charl Schwartzel (N/A)
2010 -23 Charl Schwartzel (N/A)
2009 -15 Anders Hansen (N/A, DA: 10, GIR: 16, Src: 15, PA: 23)
2008 -13 Richard Sterne (N/A)
2007 -19 Ariel Canete (N/A)
Notes: Disappointingly, four of the first five years' stats weren't recorded but in recent editions it does seem that GIR was a strong indicator for success. The same could have been said for scrambling until Andy Sullivan finished 132nd in that category last year (I'm suspicious of that to be honest!). With scores low, the birdie count needs to be high.
Andy Sullivan won this event last year just five starts after landing the South African Open. Sullivan had also finished fourth in the Dubai Desert Classic two tournaments earlier and strong recent form has been a theme of past winners.
The rainy season in Johannesburg runs from October to April so, as with last week's South African Open, we could be in for some interruptions. Both Thursday and Friday's forecasts show showers and a threat of t-storms. Saturday looks clearer although some morning rain could be around for Sunday's final round. Temperatures could push 80 degrees over the first two days before dipping a little on the weekend.
The Leading Contenders
Van Zyl blew himself out of contention in last week's South African Open with a second-round 78. He'd led after day one with a 65 although he did say the fast start surprised him after enjoying his "fair share of whisky and Christmas pudding" over the Festive period. He eventually finished T18 after shooting 68-72 on the weekend. Van Zyl is still looking for his first European Tour win although he's come close to finding it here with a joint-second place in this event last year and a third in 2012. Five of his last seven finishes in the Joburg Open have been T12 or better so expect him to be prominent again.
As I wrote last week, Stone looks "an exciting player very much on the up" so it was no huge surprise to see him become a European Tour winner at the age of just 22. It came on just his 27th ET start. Add in his victory in the Sunshine Tour's Cape Town Open in November and he now has two wins in his last three worldwide starts. He's been in the top 10 for GIR in all those events while a T16 in this event (MC last year and T46 on debut in 2012) in 2014 suggests he could play a prominent part in the finish again.
Last year's Challenge Tour No. 1 won three times in 2015 and, since winning his card, has posted a decent T18 in the pre-Christmas Alfred Dunhill Championship. He hit over 80% of GIR in that event (ranked 4th). The 24-year-old, who played in the 2014 Palmer Cup, looks to have a really bright future and, as with so many youngsters these days, could easily swerve the so-called learning process phase and make an immediate leap into the winner's circle.
Rust could be a concern for Hatton as this is his first competitive start since a T13 in November's DP World Tour Championship. Then again, he'd had a similar break last year and came out and finished T6 in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship so could well hit the ground running again. That thought is strengthened by his T2 in this event on debut two years ago. Hatton, who finished 35th on last year's Race to Dubai, was also T46 in Joburg last year.
Charl Schwartzel, the winner in 2010 and 2011, is absent but there is a two-time champ in the field…. Richard Sterne. The 34-year-old took the title with 13-under in 2008 and powered to a seven-shot success in 2013 after leading from pillar-to-post. It's been a struggle of late in his injury-hampered career but Sterne was a respectable T32 in last week's South African Open and could build on that at one of his favourite courses.
With the elite South African players not on show this week, Fisher, Jr. could emerge as one of the strongest home challengers. He put his foot down over the final 36 holes of last week's South African Open to climb to T8 while, in this event, he was third in 2012 and sixth in 2013 after opening 66-63-68 to lead through 54 holes. Fisher, Jr. was 8th in greens in regulation last week which has to bode well.
Howell shared second spot in this event last year having missed the cut on his two previous visits in 2012 and 2010. He never really got going in last week's South African Open although he did at least close with a 69 to finish T38. The putter, his greatest weapon, still only looks lukewarm so he might struggle to reproduce last year's strong effort.
Wall has finished T2 and T10 in the last two editions of the Joburg Open (37th in his only other appearance) so he's certainly a player to consider. The change in schedule might not help him though as twice in the last three years he's started his season with a missed cut. This is his first tournament since a T22 at the DP World Tour Championship, one of five top 25s he posted in his final six events of 2015.
After his lengthy absence following a broken ankle, it was hardly a surprise to see Coetzee miss last week's South African Open cut after rounds of 75-73. This week could again come too soon for him although, if he can hit his straps, there are plenty of good memories waiting to be drawn upon. Coetzee won his first (current tally now three) European Tour title in this event two years ago while he was also third in 2013 and T7 in 2011. A T24 last year was his fifth straight top 25 in the Joburg Open.
His form here is somewhat feast-or-famine with three top 20s in succession between 2011 and 2013 followed by missed cuts in the last two editions. Slattery also offered a mixed bag in last week's South African Open, alternating bad and good with rounds of 75, 68, 73 and 69. It all added up to T27 and, with the rust off, he'll expect to be more prominent this week.
The Next Rung
The South African-born Aussie opened with a 65 on his Joburg Open debut last year but failed to cash after slumping to a Friday 76. Overall, Scrivener has enjoyed his trips back to SA and, last week, closed with a 66 to take a share of 12th in the South African Open. The win for fellow youngster Brandon Stone should give him a jolt in a positive way and he certainly looks ready to win after six top 20s, including two third places, in his last 10 worldwide starts.
Prominent throughout, Walters eventually posted T4 in last week's South African Open after shooting all four rounds under par. That followed a T18 in the Alfred Dunhill Championship while, in this event, he was runner-up in 2014 and made the top 25 either side. In other words, he's a force when the European Tour pitches up in his homeland.
Drysdale has only a smattering of top threes in his lengthy European Tour career but two of them have come at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington so he has to be given respect this week. The Scot generally plays well in this part of the world and has finished T18 (Alfred Dunhill) and T27 (last week's South African Open) in his two early starts on this year's schedule.
It looked as if Kruger could be in for a big week at the South African Open as he hung up rounds of 67-70 to sit third at halfway. The weekend was a huge disappointment, however, as he slumped to T45 after rounds of 75-76. In this tournament, he's made five cuts in seven attempts with a best of T9 in the 2012 edition.
Storm got the engine running again with a steady enough T32 in last week's South African Open and, for a player who has been extremely up and down, is suddenly oozing consistency; he's now made his last nine cuts on the European Tour. He's 3-for-3 in this event although that equates to two finishes outside the top 50 and a T22 in 2014. He did post a 63 on the easier West Course in 2013 so will hope to make the most of his one round there again this year.
Despite having few expectations after "barely playing for the past couple of months", the young Englishman kicked off his 2016 season with a solo third place in last week's South African Open. He'll hope to ride that hot start to another good finish here although Royal Johannesburg & Kensington hasn't been kind to him so far. In three starts, Brooks has made the weekend just once and, on that occasion two years ago, he could only post T69. If he scrambles and putts (5th in both categories) as well as he did last week, we can expect something much better this time.
The five-time European Tour winner hasn't played this event since 2010 but he did enjoy his early visits, finishing T12 in 2009 and T25 the following year. He hasn't always produced his best golf in South Africa but his one top 20 in a modest run over the last few years was a second place at the 2014 Tshwane Open. Hoey will hope a lengthy winter break has given him a successful reboot after he ended 2015 with three missed cuts in five starts and a T68 in Turkey on his last outing.
Beyond the elite names, Fichardt has been one of South Africa's most reliable performers down the years so it's a surprise that his T18 in this event last year was his first top 20 in Joburg in eight appearances. Fichardt won the Vodacom Origins – Final on the local Sunshine Tour in mid-November but slammed his trunk early in last week's South African Open after shooting 73-74.
Horne is another former runner-up in this event (2010) while he also posted T6 in 2013. Overall, he's 8-for-9 in the Joburg Open. The 44-year-old, who won the latest of his eight Sunshine Tour titles in August, also puts a tick in the current form box. He was T4 in last week's South African Open and cracked the top five in the Asian Tour's Philippine Open on his previous start in December.
The Englishman posted T10 on his last start in South Africa (2015 Tshwane Open) and also occupied that position in this event two years ago after riding a 64 in round two. Overall, Horsey is 5-for-6 in this event and also cracked the top 25 in 2008. He's coming off a 2015 season in which he won August's Made in Denmark (fourth European Tour success) and banked two further top 10s after that. This will be his first start since mid-November.
An opening 70 in last week's South African Open suggested the German might be back on track after a miserable 2015 but he followed it with a 78 and missed the cut. The continuing poor current form looks a more likely indicator of his chances than some decent course form here (T22 and T32), especially as his last visit was back in 2010.
The man from New Jersey finally secured a European Tour card for the first time when winning the Final Stage of Q School at the end of 2015. The American, who spent much of his childhood in South Korea, has started well and followed a T34 in late November's Alfred Dunhill Championship with a fine T8 in last week's South African Open. It included a closing 65 so Im has momentum coming in. He's played this event twice before, finishing T69 in 2014 and missing the cut last year despite a second-round 68.
Who's On The Team?
I was keen on Trevor Fisher, Jr.last week and I see no reason to desert him after he came on strong over the weekend to finish T8.
There's been an inevitable price cut but 25/1 could still be okay in this weak field.
It's another obvious chance for tournament favorite Jaco Van Zyl to get his overdue first European Tour win while Justin Walters and Keith Horne are two other local South Africans who could go well at 50/1.
One To Fade
David Howell was runner-up last year but he'd missed his two previous cuts before that and, until his normally potent putter hots up, he looks worth swerving.