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After hopping continents over the past few weeks, we're back in South Africa for the next fortnight as the European Tour takes in the Joburg Open this week then the Tshwane Open next week. With the first of the year's WGCs also taking place next week in Mexico, these co-sanctioned events are relatively weak affairs it has to be said, however with our tails up after last week's 50/1 winner in the shape of Brett Rumford, let's see if we can follow that up with another result here this week.
2017 marks the 11th playing of the Joburg Open and as per last year's 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 Birkdale 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 the Honda Classic - you can read Steve Bamford's in-depth preview of that event here.
Sky Bet have gone 6 places each-way at full 1/4 odds at both the Honda Classic and Joburg Open this week and that should be applauded. They also have two promotions to choose from for new customers: £10 No Deposit Required or Bet £/€5, Get £20:
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: 7,656 yards; Water Hazards: 11; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu; Greens: Bent/Poa, 9'6" on the stimp.
Course Overview. The West Course is the easier of the two at 7,203 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 7,656 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.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Winners & Prices. 2016: Haydn Porteous, 150/1; 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 6 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Johannesburg is here. A stormy start to the week will give the course a good watering before the event starts and a poor forecast with thunderstorms and rain expected at times for the first 3 days could put a real dampener on affairs and cause a headache for officials looking to finish this tournament on Sunday.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 5 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 looks like the winning combination if you ignore Andy Sulivan's win here in 2015. Positive Joburg Open form looks like a pre-requisite with Sullivan having finished 5th in 2014 before his 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. Even last year's surprise winner Haydn Porteous had finished 24th the year before on tournament debut having missed his previous 2 cuts to suggest that the course suited his eye.
Haydn Porteous couldn't boast the most sparkling of immediate form coming into this event last year with missed cuts at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and SA Open his most recent efforts, however he had at least recorded a top-10 finish in his previous 8 finishes and the same can be said of the 5 listed players above as well as all previous winners here dating back to the start of the event in 2007. So, in that respect, some tangible form is preferable.
The rough is reportedly fairly generous this year to encourage birdies and eagles, however the fly in the ointment may well be the stormy weather forecast which threatens to interrupt play with thunderstorms and rain expected for the first 3 days at least. If nothing else, the course is likely to play longer and softer which plays into the hands of the longer hitters and should favour those with the game to suit.
Bookmaker Offers: With a large field here this week at the Joburg Open, a number of bookmakers are offering extended terms. New customers can also get a free £10 no deposit required bet with Sky Bet - perfect for covering off one of the favourites this week:
My final selections are as follows:
If you can put Haydn Porteous' win here last year to one side for a moment then recent results at the Joburg Open have led us to a fairly short-priced winner on every other occasion since 2010 and, if that overall trend is to continue, Brandon Stone is the most likely candidate to be lifting the trophy here this week in my view. Charl Schwartzel at both 9/1 and 4/1, George Coetzee at 11/1, Andy Sullivan at 16/1 and Richard Sterne at 18/1 have all triumphed from the head of the market, or very close to the head, in the past few renewals and in general a fairly obvious winner has tended to prevail when the scores are all totted up at the end of the final round.
Length off the tee is a huge asset here with light rough, altitude and attackable par 5s and an inclement forecast will likely exacerbate that further with soft fairways producing less roll and any drives that miss the short grass requiring a lot of muscle to get to the greens on the long East Course which will host 3 of the 4 rounds this week. Damp fairways will effectively play wider for the longer hitters and receptive greens will play into the hands of players who can attack with more lofted clubs, so all in all I'm very much favouring the more powerful players - at 24th in the driving distance stats for 2016 and an average of over 297 yards, our man Brandon very much fits the bill.
Power alone isn't going to win this event of course, however there's an awful lot more to like about the 23 year-old's game that's already seen him win two European Tour events on home soil and a 3rd victory in a little over 12 months is well within his reach here this week. At 69th in the OWGR, Stone is the highest-ranked player in attendance this week and if his 7th place finish in far stronger company at the Dubai Desert Classic on his last start is anything to go by then he's in the right kind of form to take this event by the scruff of the neck. 3rd for Total Driving and 3rd for Ball-Striking is an excellent effort on that Emirates track that demands high GIR in order to contend and the confidence will no doubt be flowing still following his expert handling of Charl Schwartzel at Leopard Creek in December when he won at a canter in the end.
It's interesting that Stone chose to play here this week instead of jetting off early to Mexico for the WGC, so clearly he has ambitions of winning this event and taking a step closer to a top-50 OWGR position that would see him snatch a late invite and debut appearance at this year's Masters. This will be the 5th time that the Pretoria man has teed it up at the Joburg Open and last year's 28th place finish came immediately after having secured his home Open Championship the weekend before - I'd expect a far more competitive effort here this week from Brandon. RESULT: T4
If it's power and form that we're looking for then Dean Burmester cannot be ignored. Topping the European Tour's driving distance charts in 2016 at a whopping 315.6 yards average from off the tee, the South African - who was born in Zimbabwe - certainly has the raw credentials to contend here this week. 5 top-8 finishes in his last 9 starts on all Tours is a strong indicator of how well the 27 year-old is playing right now and this class of field won't be a massive concern having picked up 6 Sunshine Tour victories since 2013. When you look at his raw statistics it would come as no surprise to see Dean contend regularly wherever he tees it up - as well as length off the tee he can also find his fair share of greens in regulation (70% or more in 8 of his last 10 starts), scrambles well (top-15 for scrambling in 5 of his last 6 starts) and has topped the putting charts as recently as Abu Dhabi last month with a 1.57 putts per GIR total. 13th here in 2015 is his best effort to date at the Joburg Open, however Burmester is clearly becoming increasingly confident playing at European Tour level with finishes of 7th (Abu Dhabi) and 4th (BMW SA Open) already recorded this year to date. RESULT: T11
Hao-Tong Li, James Morrison, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Richard Sterne all made the shortlist, however I'll finish with another couple of long hitters who could make the frame here this week in the shape of Ryan Fox and Haydn Porteous.
Ryan Fox enjoyed a stellar second half to the 2016 Challenge Tour season, ultimately winning his card by finishing 4th in the rankings and racking up a win, two runner-up finishes and a further 5 top-7 finishes before heading to Australia where he finished 4th behind Jordan Spieth at the Australian Open then 9th from an excellent halfway position at the Australian PGA Championship a fortnight later. The Kiwi has 4 professional titles to his name and the experience of the Olympics and World Cup from last year under his belt and, at 30 years of age, could well be ready to break through at European Tour level if he can find some consistency with the putter. 19th in Abu Dhabi and 64th in Qatar might not be the most exciting of results to read about, however both featured GIR performances of 84.7% and, coupled with his monstrous driving (4th on Tour last year, 306.4 yard average), that's a potent recipe for a soggy Johannesburg track. Missed out on a spot in the match play stages in Perth courtesy of the 24th-place play-off and is playing well enough to significantly improve on his missed cut here last year. RESULT: T50
Finally I'm taking a small punt on defending champion Haydn Porteous who showed a little bit of form at the Maybank Championship to suggest that he could put up a reasonable defence of his title here. Some players are consistent whereas others are streaky and the 22 year-old certainly falls into the latter category having endured a torrid second half to 2016 after his victory here last January. Top 10s followed his maiden success at the Dubai Desert Classic and Tshwane Open before he grabbed his first regular Sunshine Tour victory at the Investec Cup in March, however after that it was largely weekends off for the young man. A closing 66 at the Turkish Airlines Open at least showed some flicker of form towards the end of the year and a much improved effort on his last start in Malaysia, where he finished 26th courtesy of 20 birdies and an eagle, might just be the start of an upsurge in form and, at the price, he's worth a small risk in my view. 6th on the European Tour's driving distance averages in 2016 and with Charl Schwartzel and Richard Sterne both having won this event twice in its short existence, perhaps the early signs are that this is a course and event that suits the same players year-in, year-out. RESULT: T23
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