After the twin events in Australia and Mauritius last week, the European Tour heads back to South Africa for two more tournaments before the Festive break.
First up is the South African Open hosted by the city of Johannesburg which, this year, heads to Randpark GC.
If the new name for the tournament sounds a little convoluted, it’s because a decision was taken a couple of months ago to merge the South African Open with the Joburg Open.
Randpark was the host venue for the Joburg Open last December so, thankfully, we do have some current course form to peruse as the South African Open hadn’t been there since 2000.
Those with good memories will recall that the Joburg Open always had an enormous field and that’s the case with this week’s event.
A grand total of 240 pros tee it up, with Randpark’s two championship courses, Firethorn and Bushwillow, needed to take the strain.
For the first time, it’s a tri-sanctioned event, with points and prizes counting towards the European Tour, local Sunshine Tour and Asian Tour.
The official European Tour fantasy game doesn’t return until January but there’s other formats to play and look out later in the week for our DraftKings picks.
Firethorn is a 7,504-yard par 71. Players have three laps here, one on either Thursday or Friday and both at the weekend. The other, easier, track is the 7,114-yard Bushwillow, a par 71. It’s short, tree-lined and tight in spots although last year’s Joburg Open winner Shubhankar Sharma fired a 61 there on the way to victory. Christofer Blomstrand carded a 62 at the Firethorn so both courses can yield plenty of birdies. Chipping can be difficult from the Kikuyu rough around the greens, a part of the game in which Sharma excelled. "I hit the ball good and I putted really well but the key up-and-downs I made over the first three days, I think I only missed two up-and-downs over the whole week,” he said. The stats (see below) backed him up.
Leading finishers, scores and stats from 2017 Joburg Open at Randpark
-23 Shubhankar Sharma (DD: 39, DA: 12, GIR: 31: Scr: 1, PA: 3, AA: 1)
-20 Erik van Rooyen (DD: 21, DA: 23, GIR: 1: Scr: 4, PA: 47, AA: 2)
-17 Shaun Norris (DD: 32, DA: 33, GIR: 55: Scr: 5, PA: 1, AA: 6)
-17 Tapio Pulkkanen (DD: 1, DA: 54, GIR: 41: Scr: 2, PA: 23, AA: 3)
-15 Marcus Armitage (DD: 12, DA: 64, GIR: 31: Scr: 6, PA: 39, AA: 19)
Notes: It wasn’t just Sharma who had excellent Scrambling skills. The leading five finishers were all ranked in the top six for that category, by far the strongest stat.
Heavy rain and hail storms meant a Monday finish at Randpark in last year’s Joburg Open. It’s glorious in the build-up this week but, amidst the sunshine and temps around 80 degrees, we have t-storm threats on Thursday and the weekend. It could get a little windy too, with gusts up to 15-18mph each day.
The Leading Contenders
Bizarrely, Oosthuizen had to pull out of the Joburg Open at this venue last year after getting his fingers jammed in a luggage trolley at the airport! Presuming a suitcase doesn’t fall on his head, he’s got huge appeal this week. Fifth at the CIMB, the local man was third at the Nedbank Golf Challenge and has a win and six other top 11s in his last eight starts on South African soil dating back to 2014. Has never won his home Open but owns two top threes and a fifth in his last five attempts.
The Englishman’s sensational 2018 almost brought a fourth win, and his biggest yet, before he finished runner-up at last month’s DP World Tour Championship with rounds of 68-65-71-68 and ranking fifth in Scrambling. But he’s not done yet for this year and will have his eyes on the prize again after taking T5 at November’s Nedbank on his last visit to South Africa. Wallace also played these tracks in the 2017 Joburg Open, sitting T12 with 18 to play before finishing T30.
"This is a course I know and I have played before. I know the lines off the tee,” said Fritelli of the Firethorn ahead of last year’s Joburg Open. He had to settle for T42 so the week didn’t exactly go to plan but one of South Africa’s rising stars returns in fine form. T7 at the DP World Tour Championship, the World No. 74 closed with 65 to take T5 in defense of his Mauritius Open crown last week, finishing 11th for Scrambling. Top 20 in two of the last three South African Opens.
This is Grace’s 11th start in the SA Open and he’s getting close to that first win. Fourth in 2016, he was runner-up last time, taking his tally of top tens to four while there are three other finishes of T21 or better. His general form over the last six months has been mixed but it’s noticeable that his best effort came on a return home when T11 at the Nedbank Golf Challenge last month.
A bit like Oosthuizen and Grace, Schwartzel’s South African Open story remains unresolved. He has two seconds, a third, two fourths and a fifth and four of his top fives have come in his last five attempts although that stretch started back in 2010. Current form is a worry though – 41-70-MC-40 – and the T41 came in the Nedbank where he shot 78 in round two and got up-and-down just 39.1%.
“I like the conditions back home and I always play nicely back home,” said Burmester at this venue last year. It’s a fair claim. He won the 2017 Tshwane Open (first Euro Tour victory), has a bunch of top tens and 20s, including T19 at Randpark at last year’s Joburg Open, and has 10th and 4th in two of the last three South African Opens. Unlike some of his more famous compatriots, Burmester also brings good form too after a top four at the DP World Tour Championship on his last start.
The in-form Frenchman ended his Challenge Tour campaign 4-7-1-2, won his card and took third in the Hong Kong Open and then opened with 64 to lead the Mauritius Open last Thursday. He quietened on the weekend to end T14 but that’s still an excellent first two events and the good news doesn’t stop there. Perez pegged it up in last year’s Joburg Open at this venue and took T13, the same position he occupied in the 2018 Tshwane on his only other start in SA.
Van Rooyen would have been on the radar anyway due to his impressive form on last season’s European Tour which ended with T26 at the DP World Tour Championship (all four rounds in the 60s). But the South African was also runner-up at this place in the 2017 Joburg Open, completing his week with a 66 at the Firethorn, and has two top 20s in his last three starts at his national Open.
The defending champion although that came at a different venue, Glendower, back in January. There seemed to be some good vibes being carried when he visited South Africa again last month and took T9 at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Strong recent Scrambling stats suggest the Englishman can have another big week.
The South African was outside the top 700 in the world rankings when he teed it up here last year and missed the cut. He’ll return ranked 81st after a four-win season (two in South African Sunshine Tour events) and a fourth in Mauritius last week where he was joint-leader after 54 holes. The transformed 32-year-old is 6-for-9 in South African Opens but yet to finish better than T31.