The European Tour follows the sunshine in these cold, winter months on the mainland so it’s back to South Africa for the Tshwane Open.
This is the fifth visit to SA already in this wraparound season and the scoreline so far is 3-1 to the hosts after victories for Charl Schwartzel in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, Brandon Stone in the South African Open and Haydn Porteous in the Joburg Open. Aussie Marc Leishman captured the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
This was the ultimate ‘home’ game for Coetzee last year as he’d been a member at Pretoria CC since the age of 10.
The course - Pretoria Country Club
This is a short 6,830-yard par 70 parkland course which is over 100 years old. It was used as host venue for the first time last year although Pretoria CC is familiar territory to many South Africans as it’s staged several events on the local Sunshine Tour. Redesigned by Gary Player in 2004, the fairways are fairly narrow in places while the greens are small and undulating. A river runs through holes 13-17 and there is plenty of risk-reward in play due to the number of short par fours. Unlike the birdie-fests at the Els Club in 2013 and 2014, only two players finished double digits under par at Pretoria CC last year.
Last year - Winning Scores and Stats
-14 George Coetzee (DD: 20, DA: 72, GIR: 13, Scr: 1, PA: 4, AA: 2)
-13 Jacques Blaauw (DD: N/A, DA: 96, GIR: 40, Scr: 15, PA: 4, AA: 13)
-9 Dean Burmester (DD: N/A, DA: 40, GIR: 40, Scr: 58, PA: 20, AA: 15)
-9 Tjaart Van Der Walt (DD: 41, DA: 26, GIR: 6, Scr: 8, PA: 25, AA: 1)
-9 Craig Lee (DD: 46, DA: 40, GIR: 28, Scr: 23, PA: 9, AA: 11)
It seems that hitting fairways simply wasn’t important last year. Coetzee found a good amount of greens in regulation (72.2%) and then won it with short game. The top putter that week, Adrian Otaegui, finished T6.
These were the winning scores and leading finishers when the tournament was held at the more wide-open grasslands of the Els Club at Copperleaf.
2014 -20 Ross Fisher; -17 Danie Van Tonder, Michael Hoey; -16 Carlos Del Moral; -15 Hennie Otto; -13 Chris Wood, Darren Fichardt, Kevin Phelan; -12 Merrick Bremner; -11 Trevor Fisher, Jr., Simon Dyson, Edoardo Molinari
2013 -21 Dawie Van Der Walt; -19 Darren Fichardt; -18 Louis De Jaeger; -17 Peter Uihlein; -16 Bjorn Akesson, Danny Willett, Charl Coetzee, -15 Morten Orum Madsen, Graham van Der Merwe; -14 Desvonde Botes, Vaughn Groenewald, David Howell, Hennie Otto, Jake Roos, Romain Wattel
Pretoria is located inland and in a sheltered valley so temperatures are usually hot and winds modest – unlike the coastal South African events. That looks true again this week (they’re set to peak around 91 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday) although hot temps often produce electrical activity and T-storms are part of the forecast all four days. Don’t be surprised to see interruptions.
The Leading Contenders
The only major winner in the field so Schwartzel is understandably at the front of the betting. The concern is that he’s had a two-month break since finishing ninth at the Nedbank Golf Challenge but there are plenty of other positives. Firstly, prior to that, he’d kicked off the season with victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship after finishing fourth in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. And secondly, if you dig through the old form, his Sunshine Tour finishes (2006-2009) at Pretoria CC read 1-8-5-2.
Coetzee became the first player on the European Tour to win at the course he was currently attached to since 2008 (Sergio Garcia) when he landed an emotional win here 12 months ago. All those local smarts will again be a huge asset this week and he returns home after a strong ‘Desert Swing’ – T35 Abu Dhabi, T7 Qatar, T26 Dubai. Repeat wins for elite players are fairly common in South Africa so he could be the man to beat again.
Another of the fancied locals, Van Zyl sat out the ‘Desert Swing’. Before that, he’d posted T8 in the Alfred Dunhill and added two top 20s (T13 Nedbank, T18 South African Open) before surprisingly missing the cut in Joburg. An opening 74 in this event hampered Van Zyl last year but a Friday 65 helped him to a top 15 and he was also third at Pretoria CC in a Sunshine Tour event in 2005. Still to win on the European Tour, this gives him another decent chance.
The local man certainly enhanced his growing reputation with three good weeks on the ‘Desert Swing’ and, but for some modest final rounds, would have done a lot better than his eventual finishes of 16-48-26. In the most recent, he was T2 at halfway in Dubai. Those results followed T8 in the South African Open and T13 in Joburg. At this course, one he knows well, Fisher, Jr. opened with a pair of 66s last year and was in a six-way tie for the lead after 54 holes before sliding back to T23 at the finish with a closing 75.
A former course winner at Pretoria CC although that came back in 2007 in a Sunshine Tour event. There’s been much stalling of his injury-hit career since although a T10 in the Joburg Open last month shows he’s still a force in these co-sanctioned events. A missed cut in last week’s Dubai Desert Classic is probably easy to ignore.
Burmester is very much on the radar this week even though he remains virtually unknown outside his native South Africa. A winner on the Sunshine Tour in both September and October last year, he also posted T10 in last month’s South African Open following a T11 in the Alfred Dunhill. Adding to his credentials is a tied third place on this course last year.
Don’t rule out a big show from Rumford this week as he has both course and current form. The former needs a little clarification as he withdrew at halfway but he’d opened 64-70 so clearly took to Pretoria CC. The Aussie should be confident after making it three cuts out of three on the ‘Desert Swing’ with a T24 in the Dubai Desert Classic last week (also T48 in Qatar and T35 in Abu Dhabi).
Slattery didn’t make the cut last year (69-74) but still has to be viewed as one of the most likely overseas raiders to get in the mix. Two starts ago he took fourth place in Qatar and in September last year he followed victory in the Russian Open with a second place at the KLM Open. The Englishman looks rejuvenated and it’s worth noting that he shone in this part of the world when third in last year’s South African Open.
He may not generate the same interest as some of the South African young guns, but Walters is a force at this level. Back in November he finished T18 at the Alfred Dunhill and last month he enjoyed back-to-back top fours with T4 at the South African Open and T3 in Joburg. He’s never missed a cut in seven starts at Pretoria and was T23 in this event last year.
The Englishman is 3-for-3 on the European Tour this season with almost identical results of T31, T35 and T36. He recorded the latter in Dubai last week after a strong 68-69 weekend finish so has some momentum heading to South Africa. Horsey burst out of the traps at Pretoria CC last year when leading the way after round one with a 63 and although he faded he’ll still have some positive memories from his eventual T10. Overall, he has three top 10s in his last seven starts in South Africa.
The Next Rung
The 21-year-old took a huge step when capturing the Joburg Open last month, becoming the third youngest South African winner on the European Tour and securing an exemption until the end of 2017. And he made another career leap in the Dubai Desert Classic last week when mixing it with the big guns and finishing T8, just a shot behind Rory McIlroy. He shot 80-73 to miss the cut by a distance here last year but that form looks redundant now.
The other young local star to hit the headlines in the early months of the season following his breakthrough win in the South African Open. He had some good moments on the ‘Desert Swing, especially his T26 in Abu Dhabi, although Stone failed to cash in Dubai last week. He also made a halfway exit in this tournament last year but anyone with two wins (including a European Tour triumph) in his last four starts on home SA soil deserves respect.
While Porteous and Stone have already lifted trophies, Bezuidenhout could be the next cab of the rank after his second place at the South African Open. He backed it up with T22 in the Joburg Open so the former amateur star, who served a ban (subsequently reduced) after taking medication for a speech impediment, could be an interesting proposition.
We’re not finished with young South Africans just yet. How about Lombard, who has enjoyed a superb start to the season after taking fourth at the Aussie PGA, T12 in the South African Open and second in Joburg. That puts the 20-year-old in 30th on the Race to Dubai. He played in this event last year, missing the cut (76-70).
One of the veteran locals, Horne deserves our attention too despite not attracting as many column inches as those half his age. T4 in the South African Open last month, he’s since banked a pair of top 25s on the Asian Tour. At Pretoria, he was T23 last year after opening 65-67 and is 4-for-4 in Sunshine Tour events there.
Anyone in this field who went 3-for-3 on the ‘Desert Swing’ should enter calculations so Evans is worth considering. He didn’t get in the title mix but T46, T29 and T33in the Middle East is fair enough consider the drop in class he faces here. The Englishman didn’t play at Pretoria last year but is an excellent driver of the ball and could make a big impression if the putter is working.
Im played in just one of the three ‘Desert’ Swing events and missed the cut by a distance in Abu Dhabi but he does deserve respect with the European Tour back in South Africa. There, last month, he shot a final-round 65 to post T8 at the South African Open and followed it with T3 in the Joburg Open. Joint medallist at Q School last November, Im will be making his course debut.
The Scot has a solid bank of form in South Africa with his last nine visits yielding a pair of top sixes and four other finishes of T27 or better. He was also 2-for-3 on the ‘Desert Swing’, including T22 in Abu Dhabi, although his missed cut on this track last year is an obvious negative.
Tjaart Van Der Walt
If it’s course form you want, Van Der Walt finished T3 last year and also T6 in a Sunshine Tour event held at Pretoria CC. In two previous home events in 2016, he’s posted T32 at the South African Open and T39 in Joburg. Not bad, but the 41-year-old will need to step it up with so many young guns looking to take up the slack.
The Chilean was stone cold in the desert, missing all three cuts, but don’t strike a line through him just yet. Aguilar was T13 in the Joburg Open on his last visit to South Africa in January and opened with three rounds in the 60s to sit T16 after 54 holes at this venue last year before slipping away to T35. He also owns a pair of top threes from his last seven starts in the country.
Who’s On The Team?
This could well be an event where it doesn’t pay to stray from the head of the betting.
Those two would certainly be vying for ‘star player’ if the European Tour fantasy game was up and running (it’s back in March by the way).
Plenty of the new wave of South African youngsters could shine again although it’s the slightly older Dean Burmester (28/1), who could give the two betting favorites most to think about given his T3 here 12 months ago.
One To Fade
No obvious candidate amongst the big names although Richard Sterne missed the cut last week and may have to settle for something around 30th – just as he did in the Alfred Dunhill and South African Open.