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We stay in South Africa and the Johannesburg region for the second successive event this week as the 210-man Joburg Open graces our screens. In a season that will see a number of changes to accommodate the Olympics, this week's event is being played concurrently with the AfrAsia Cup which means that last year's winner Andy Sullivan isn't in attendance; Charl Schwarzel's continued absence due to illness also further depletes the field of quality meaning that Jaco Van Zyl is the clear favourite at 14/1 and shortening at the time of writing. Yes, you read that right!
2016 marks the 10th playing of the Joburg Open and following on from recent changes to Open Championship qualifying there's an additional reason to succeed this week. The top 3 players who finish inside the top 10 who aren't already exempt for The Open at Royal Troon will be granted automatic qualification - for some players that's a huge carrot to be dangling in front of them, particularly given the lack of depth in this field. For more details click here.
Over on the PGA Tour this week there's Sony Open In Hawaii - you can read Steve Bamford's in-depth preview of that event here.
Event Overview. The Joburg Open is played over the East and West courses at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC, each of which presents a very different challenge to the players: the first 2 days alternate between the 2 courses with each player visiting each course once; following the cut, the East Course alone hosts the weekend's finale. The field is huge with over 200 entrants typically making up the final entry list, however the cut still falls at the top 65 and ties meaning around two-thirds of players won't make the weekend.
Royal Johannesburg & Kensington GC, East Course. Designer: Grimsdell, 1935 with Muller re-design 1998; Course Type: Altitude, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,590 yards; Water Hazards: 11; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu; Greens: Bent/Poa, 9'6" on the stimp; 2015 scoring average: 70.80; Rd1: 70.63, Rd2: 70.61, Rd3: 71.85, Rd4: 70.77.
Course Overview. The West Course is the easier of the two at 7,228 yards (par 71) featuring large greens and wide fairways; the East Course is much tighter where high Greens In Regulation is a pre-requisite, plus at 7,677 yards (par 72) it's amongst the longest on the European Tour, albeit the altitude here negates that figure to a certain degree. Winning scores ranging from -14 (Richard Sterne, 2008) to -27 (Richard Sterne, 2013) show that the conditions here can have a significant impact on how this event pans out.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Joburg Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available. 2-time winner Richard Sterne tops this week's predictor followed by the in-form Keith Horne and bookies' favourite Jaco Van Zyl.
Winners & Prices. 2015: Andy Sullivan, 16/1; 2014: George Coetzee, 11/1; 2013: Richard Sterne, 18/1; 2012: Branden Grace, 35/1; 2011: Charl Schwartzel, 4/1; 2010: Charl Schwartzel, 9/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Johannesburg is here. A stormy start to the week will give the course a welcome watering, however Thursday and more particularly Friday could well see some interruptions to play with lightning in the area. The breeze will be similar to last week at around 15-25 km/h at times however temperatures will be decidedly cooler at the weekend peaking in the low 70s Fahrenheit.
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have really gone to town this week with the extended field at the Joburg Open:
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 4 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Power-packed South Africans who can hit a lot of greens in regulation looked like the winning combination here prior to Andy Sullivan's win, plus a decent level of current form also looks favourable. Taking that latter point further, Charl Schwartzel arrived here in 2011 with incoming form of 2/4/4 and the year before 2/26/1, so clearly a string of missed cuts isn't preferable based on recent history. For a summary of 2015 winners' current/event form prior to winning click here.
In addition to recent results, positive Joburg Open form looks like a pre-requisite with Sullivan having finished 5th in 2014 before last year's win, Coetzee having finished 7/14/3 in his previous 3 Joburg Opens, Sterne was a previous winner here, Grace finished 13th the year before and Schwartzel defended in 2011 having backed up a 4th-place finish to win the year before. All of this has boiled down to a fairly straightforward, short-priced winner over the past 6 years.
If you add all of this together then it's easy to see why Jaco Van Zyl is the favourite, despite his inability to finish off an event on the European Tour so far. Recent Joburg Open form of 3/11/22/2 and 4 top-20 finishes in his last 6 starts including 2nd in Turkey is just about on the money in terms of a blueprint for success here, however I can't back him at that price myself. Second favourite Tyrrell Hatton hasn't played competitively since Dubai and may be a little rusty, Brandon Stone may find the emotional impact of last week's win a significant hurdle to overcome and George Coetzee looked far from 100% on his ankle last week to warrant support here. My selections are as follows:
Let's make no bones about it, this year's Joburg Open is a particularly weak affair. With Charl Schwartzel still recovering from his illness issues from the festive period and last year's champion Andy Sullivan playing in the EurAsia Cup, two of the likely favourites aren't in attendance which leaves a very uneasy Jaco Van Zyl heading affairs at a miserly 14/1 at best. On the basis that this event gave George Coetzee his much-needed (and very much overdue) first European Tour victory a couple of years back, this year's renewal surely presents Van Zyl with a golden opportunity to finally get over the line. I can't back him though at the price, instead I'm happy to support his course-proven compatriot Richard Sterne who's showed just about enough since returning to action before Christmas to suggest he's got more than a fighting chance here this week.
At anywhere approaching his best, Sterne is a class above the vast majority of the field here. 3 top-25 Major finishes, 4th at Doral in 2014 and 6 European Tour victories to his name resulting in 3 separate flirtations with the OWGR top 30 over the years proves his quality, however niggling injuries have prevented him from really pushing on and realising his full potential which had some commentators quietly suggesting a Major victory wasn't completely out of the question. 2015 was an unequivocal disaster for the Pretoria man who made just 1 weekend from 18 starts on the PGA Tour having secured his card at the web.com finals and a hip injury was the final nail in the coffin on that adventure which eventually saw him return home to recuperate and reassess his career last summer.
4 months of rest was finally broken when he warmed up for the Alfred Dunhill Championship in late November at the Lion of Cape Town Open on the Sunshine Tour, eventually finishing 20th. "The game isn’t that far off, to be honest. I’m a bit surprised – in a good way." he said after shaking off the rust in Cape Town and he started positively at Leopard Creek also, sitting 2nd at the halfway point and grabbing a bit of the limelight with a penultimate pairing on the Saturday before fading. "I'm playing quite nicely," he added, "there are just a couple of things here and there, but I’ve tried to sort out the issues that I’ve had for the last year and a half. I’m not hitting any of those shots at the moment which is good. I hit some good shots and I'm putting alright. I’m chipping very well which is something that I struggled with and that was a strong point." - positive words indeed and enough to stoke my interest.
After the festive break Sterne returned to action at Glendower last week and at 7 under through 10 holes in his 3rd round threatened to make a late charge on the title, before fading away once again. 3 over for his final 7 holes on Sunday saw him eventually slip to 32nd, however with his chance gone that's understandable and if he'd have gone the other way and shot 3 under for those holes he'd have started far more prominently in the betting this week given his record here. If there's a venue that's likely to see a return to winning ways for the 34 year-old then the Royal Johannesburg is surely it - a play-off victory here in 2008 secured Sterne's 3rd European Tour victory and a runaway 7-stroke success here in 2013, where he amassed an almighty 27-under total, rubber-stamps his liking for this layout. With a poor field to beat perhaps this is the week that will see a turnaround in his fortunes and career alike. RESULT: T10
Prior to Andy Sullivan's victory here last year, the recipe for success looked pretty straightforward with in-form South Africans with positive course form dominating with Coetzee, Sterne, Grace and Schwartzel (twice) all taking the title here with that classic combination. On the strength of this I'm going with a couple of players who fit the bill in that respect this week in the shape of Trevor Fisher and Keith Horne:
A shot outside the paying places for last week's selection Trevor Fisher Jr is as always a bitter pill to swallow, however fact is that only eventual winner Brandon Stone matched our man's score over the weekend at Glendower and he's well worth another chance this week in an event where he's produced finishes of 3rd and 6th in the past 4 years. There was a lot to like about how Trevor played last week and his power-packed game (10th for driving distance last week) and precise irons (7th for GIR) are a perfect combination for success here at this Royal Joburg layout. 2013 was Fisher's biggest opportunity as he started the final day alongside Richard Sterne with the pair 5 shots clear of 3rd place, however 9 shots separated the two men on the day as Trevor limped home in 73 strokes. 3 outstanding rounds clearly shows he can play this track though and with a maiden European Tour success under his belt at last year's Africa Open he's a more accomplished and confident player nowadays. The 9-time Sunshine Tour winner generally reserves his best form for his homeland, however 3rd place at last October's Portugal Masters suggests he's also becoming a more rounded professional who's capable of taking down an event like this. RESULT: T13
Another prominent player from last week was Keith Horne and with incoming form of 5th (Philippine Open) and 4th (BMW SA Open) coupled with event form included 6th in 2013 and 2nd in 2010, the 44 year-old is a fairly straightforward selection in this field. A bogey at the 72nd hole last week took a little bit of the shine off of what was otherwise a strong event for the Durban man, however 7 consecutive rounds of par or better is a decent return and a strong platform to build upon this week. 85.2% of greens hit in the Philippines led the field in that respect and the South African was the best on show for scrambling at Glendower as well as ranking 4th for overall putting - each aspect of his game seems in decent nick at the moment and this could well be his best chance yet of grabbing his maiden European Tour title. 6th here in 2012 featured a putting performance on these bent/poa greens of 1.65 putts per GIR which is more than enough to win when coupled with a decent week with the irons, however that was eclipsed by his 2010 performance where just 99 putts were required on the week and only a runaway leader in the shape of Charl Schwartzel prevented him from capturing a first European Tour title. That's as close as he's come at this level, however a couple more top-7 career finishes at Leopard Creek over the years suggests that his best chance of getting over the line on the European Tour is in one of these co-sanctioned South African events. RESULT: MC
With a number of bookmakers attacking this event with 6 places each way at 1/4 odds, plus Paddy Power going 7 places at 1/5 odds, there's plenty of scope for adding a couple of outsiders to the team. Christiaan Bezuidenhout (300/1) and Daniel Brooks (250/1) both grabbed full each-way payouts last week at Glendower to once again highlight the fact that this can and does happen regularly on the European Tour.
First up Jacques Blaauw who's showed his best form at European Tour level in these co-sanctioned events in his homeland and this type of event looks his best chance of breaking through at this level. 11th at the 2014 Nelson Mandela Championship, 7th here last year and 2nd at the Tshwane Open in March show solid progression at this type of level and the 29 year-old has the length and accuracy with his irons to succeed around these parts. At 34th for driving distance in this season's embryonic stats (298.6 yards) the Centurion man has the firepower to tackle this layout and 75% of Greens in Regulation (10th in the field) at Glendower is positive ahead of this week's task. 3 Sunshine Tour victories in quick succession in 2013 prove that Jacques is well capable of converting when in position and he'll have learnt a lot from his near miss last year that saw him start Sunday from the penultimate group before bogeys at 12 and 13 finally put paid to his chances. His recent form isn't much to shout about, however with positive signs from his ironplay last week he's worth a chance at a long price to repeat last year's effort. RESULT: T7
Finally Tano Goya who again showed some form with his irons last week (77.8% GIR, 7th in the field) and like Blaauw has the raw materials to tame these two tracks. The rise of compatriot Emiliano Grillo hasn't been lost on Goya who's shown plenty of promise over his career having won the Tour de las Americas Q-School by 9 shots after turning pro in 2007, which he then followed by winning the first of event the following season's Challenge Tour as well as the Grand Final later that year. The 27 year-old also won the co-sanctioned Madeira Islands Open on only his 6th European Tour start plus he's a Sunshine Tour champion having secured the Dimension Data Pro-Am in 2014, however in between these highlights there have been plenty - and I mean plenty - of missed cuts. 16 out of 25 events in 2015 resulted in a spare weekend for Tano, however he sent us a timely reminder of his abilities at the Russian Open when he pushed Lee Slattery all the way to the end. The Argentinean is clearly very talented and if he can find consistency over the next few years then he could carve out a strong career and this type of grade is ideal to get on track. As always you're walking a tightrope with a 250/1 shot, however 10th here in 2009 suggests he can play this track just fine. RESULT: T39
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