First things first.
If you’re playing the European Tour’s Fantasy Game, this week’s Africa Open at East London GC DOES count.
Although it goes up against the WGC-Cadillac Championship, points from both events count so picking the winner here could be worth more than a selection who struggles in Florida.
So whether your interest in this event is Fantasy-based, due to wanting a bet or just a desire to keep abreast of weakly-contested co-sanctioned events in South Africa…. read on!
Let’s begin with a recap of its five-year history by listing the previous winners and scores.
Champions at East London
2014 Thomas Aiken (-20)
2013 Darren Fichardt (-16)
2012 Louis Oosthuizen (-27)
2011 Louis Oosthuizen (-16)
2010 Charl Schwartzel (-20)
The obvious fact leaping off the page is that all five winners were South Africans. Let’s delve a little deeper though and look at the top 10 (inc ties) in each year to see how strong the home dominance was.
Top 10 finishers (% breakdown by country; SA=South Africa)
2014 SA (42%), England (25%), USA (8%), Argentina (8%), Denmark (8%), Ireland (8%)
2013 SA (55%), England (9%), France (9%), Chile (9%), Argentina (9%), Portugal (9%)
2012 SA (54%), England (15%), Scotland (15%), Argentina (8%), Sweden (8%)
2011 SA (46%), England (23%), Spain (8%), Scotland (8%), Austria (8%), Norway (8%)
2010 SA (67%), England (17%), Australia (8%), Sweden (8%)
Notes: Figures are rounded up/down. Pedants may notice these sometimes add up to 99% or 101%!
English players generally feature although this is also a reflection of how many take part. After South Africa, England is the next highest represented country again this year. This week’s 156-man field is split 50-50 between the Sunshine Tour and European Tours so, again, a simple numbers game shows why the South Africans average around 50%. However, it also highlights that it isn’t just a case of the Euro raiders coming over and carving the prize money up between them. The home challenge will be strong and significant.
From the European Tour website: “Opened in 1893 and designed by Colonel SV Hotchkin, East London is a unique, natural course layout measuring 6,051 meters (6,616 yards) for the tournament. The course meanders through coastal dunes and dense, indigenous bush. The course is enhanced by striking natural scenery overlooking the Indian Ocean and offers breathtaking views of the sea and Nahoon Reef, a world-famous surfing spot. The course has hosted six South African Opens and a number of amateur championships. It requires stamina and accuracy from players, who must contend with steep climbs up and down the dunes and more often than not a fierce wind whistling through the valleys.” Add to that… many of the holes are tree-lined, the greens are quite small and the rough is not too penal due to dry weather in advance. Par is 71 and it comprises seven par 4s on the front nine. There are just three par 3s on the course while the two par 5s (3rd and 15th) are short (504 & 531 yards). No surprise then that scoring is low!
Jaco Van Zyl: “It’s not a bomber’s course. You need accuracy and you need a hot putter.”
The Home Challenge
The talented Coetzee made only a modest defence of his Joburg title last week when T24 (maybe he wanted an earlyish tee-time on Sunday so he could watch his beloved Liverpool beat Man City!). On the plus side, he topped the Putting Average stats. He’s made the cut on each of his three starts here but it’s fair to say that East London isn’t his favourite course given finishes of T29, T71 and T28.
The good news: after three missed cuts on the PGA Tour, Sterne returned home last week and cashed. The bad news: he didn’t cash much; he was T46. Nevertheless, an improvement should be expected at East London, a course he plays well. The six-time European Tour winner has finished T6 (2012) and T13 (2010) on his two most recent starts and was also T8 in 2009 before it became co-sanctioned.
The two-time Web.com winner (2009 and 2011) was prominent last week but couldn’t kick on over the last 36 holes and had to settle for T13. That followed a T16 in the previous week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am so he’s heading in the right direction after going 1-for-5 at the start of this current European Tour season. He’s never missed a cut here and was fourth in 2013 so looks one of the more likely home players to contest the title.
With no Oosthuizen or Schwartzel, Fichardt is definitely one of the home players to watch closely. He won this tournament in 2013, was T5 last year and also T18 in 2012. Before it became co-sanctioned, the 39-year-old was runner-up in 2009. In the last fortnight, he’s finished T3 at the Dimension Data Pro-Am and T18 in last week’s Joburg Open so he looks an obvious candidate to go well.
Jaco Van Zyl
2014 was a write-off for Van Zyl as he had ligament damage repaired on both knees in April and, after returning in November, needed further surgery following more trouble with his left knee. He had low expectations when returning and was only T55 in the South African Open and didn’t cash in Qatar. But in the last two weeks he’s finished T3 and T2 on home soil. In this event he’s a true course horse with top fives (5-2-4-4) in each of the last four years.
Tjaart Van Der Walt
Another local, who gets on well with this track. Van Der Walt shot middle rounds of 64-65 here to finish runner-up in 2012 and was also top five in 2013. Adding to his credentials are three top 10s in his last five starts on the Sunshine Tour while, last week, he was in joint second place going into the final round before stumbling to T24.
Last week’s T18 in Joburg looks okay but takes on greater significance when considering that his previous form in that event was MC-38-MC-MC-MC-MC. Before that Ahlers was T16 in the Dimension Data Pro-Am and as recently as November he won the Cape Town Open. The 32-year-old has cashed in his last three starts here and was tied second at halfway in 2012 before finishing T14.
Horne has played all 20 rounds of the five co-sanctioned events held at East London and closed 66-65 last year to finish T9. He didn’t trouble the leaderboard operators last week when T43 but was runner-up in the Dimension Data Pro-Am the week before.
Trevor Fisher Jr
With form of 4-15-32, Fisher Jr has done pretty well in recent co-sanctioned events in his native South Africa. He was the 18, 36 and 54 hole leader in this event in 2010 before finishing T4 while he’s since managed T26 and T27.
Walters is 4-for-5 in this event but last year’s T20 was by far his best effort. Recent form is fairly encouraging with a T9 in the Dimension Data Pro-Am and a top 25 in last week’s Joburg Open.
The Overseas Challenge
He smiles a lot and he wins tournaments in South Africa. Or should that be the other way around. Either way, it’s something he acknowledged in his winner’s speech on Sunday. “It seems to be a theme, enjoying my golf and getting the right results at the moment.” So, after wins in the Joburg Open and last month’s South African Open, does he have any course form at East London? You betcha…. a fifth place on his last appearance in 2013. A South African treble could well be on the cards.
It’s surely a matter of time before the young Korean wins. After another top 10 in Joburg last week, his rookie season results now read: 22-12-5-13-7. Two of those have come in South Africa. He left his challenge too late last week but the closing 66 will have topped up the confidence levels further.
Last week’s event in Joburg went pretty much to plan; the good players shone and most featured in the top 20. The big exception to the rule was Bourdy’s missed cut after he’d finished 5-13-5 in his previous three starts. Except a big rebound here as East London suits him. He was runner-up in 2013 and T20 last year.
Howell was leading on the back nine in Joburg on Sunday before finding water but a T2 at least punched his ticket for this summer’s Open Championship at St Andrews – a consolation prize that delighted him. The Englishman was T29 in his only start in this event in 2012 but wind further back to 2001 and he was T16 in the South African Open held at East London.
It might pay to hold fire on Wood as this is his return to the game following a wrist injury. A recent tweet (Feb 14) suggested he can’t wait to get back: “First 18 holes in 4 months today! Oh how I’ve missed it. #stillgotit #backsoon”. More recently, when asked when he’s worth a top five bet, Wood replied on Twitter, “only top five?!”. Before his enforced break, Wood ended 2014 with a pair of top 10s while he lost a play-off in this event in 2011 after leading for most of the final round. He couldn’t, could he?
Very much on the radar this week due to a nice mix of current and course form. At this venue he was T5 last year (he shot 64s in R1 and R3) and T18 in 2012 while on his last two starts the Englishman has posted T18 in Joburg and T11 in the Malaysian Open.
Another likely challenge from the English contingent could come from Fisher. He lost in a play-off in this event last year after opening 66-63-66 and he also cashed in his only other visit in 2010. More recently we’ve seen him finish T12 in Abu Dhabi and T10 in Qatar.
Another Englishman! Horsey shot a closing 65 to finish tied third on his East London debut last year so the course is a good fit. After a break following a trio of missed cuts, he found some form with a T32 in last week’s Joburg Open.
The veteran Frenchman has finished T13, T5 and T7 in his last three starts on South African soil although he hasn’t found that sort of form at East London (MC-65). He’s 4-for-5 on the European Tour this season, with a T25 in Malaysia his most recent effort.
Has he finally changed gear after a string of finishes between 30th and 60th? The question is raised after a T10 in Joburg last week when he finally reeled off some rounds in the 60s. Even then, his putter wasn’t particularly hot so it’s hard to get too excited about his chances ahead of his East London debut.
The Spaniard has made his last seven cuts on the European Tour and is 3-for-3 in this event. He was also runner-up in the 2013 Nelson Mandela Championship and generally performs well in South Africa.
Who’s On The Team?
Jaco Van Zyl, Darren Fichardt and Tjaart Van Der Walt all boast strong East London records so look the best of the home contingent.
Look out too for Jaco Ahlers, who could be worth an each-way (top five) bet at a big price.
As for the overseas challenge, Byeong-Hun An looks very much a ‘winner waiting to happen’ while David Howell’s straightish driving and great putting looks an ideal fit for East London and he’s around the 50/1 mark. The disappointment of not winning last week when leading on the back nine was compensated by him securing a first ever Open Championship at St Andrews.
Gregory Bourdy should resume normal service after his MC in Joburg while a sneaky dark horse could be Jorge Campillo. In his last five rounds at East London you’ll find a 63 and two 65s.
How many of these make it into this week’s 10-man European Tour Fantasy team remains to be seen given the contrast in prize money between here and the WGC-Cadillac. Check Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature to find out who!
One To Fade
Chris Wood is short in the betting but surely it’s asking too much for the former runner-up here to shine in his first start for four months following a wrist problem.