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After the short festive break, we're ready and raring to go as the European Tour's 2017 events get underway in South Africa. The season may already be 3 events old following the low-key tournaments that followed Dubai, however the action for me really kicks off from this week with the BMW SA Open which is then followed by the Middle-East Swing starting in Abu Dhabi next week where we'll be joined by some of the golfing elite including Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler to name but a few.
Last year's schedule was impacted by the Olympics with Majors and WGCs shifted around to accommodate and although we're back to something approaching normality, there are some noteworthy adjustments ahead of us for 2017. The World Super 6 event in Perth next month sees the European Tour experimenting with a new strokeplay/matchplay hybrid - you can read more on the format here - plus the Final Series has been replaced by the Rolex Series which sees 7 key events contributing during the course of the season.
On to matters at hand though and this week we have the BMW SA Open as well as the Sony Open in Hawaii over on the PGA Tour - Steve Bamford previews that event here.
Glendower GC, Gauteng, Johannesburg. Designer: Allison, 1937; Course Type: Classical, Parkland, Altitude; Par: 72; Length: 7,594 yards; Water Hazards: 11; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu; Greens A1/A4 Bentgrass, 12 on the stimpmeter.
Course Overview. Glendower GC is a classical parkland track first opened in 1937 which received a fairly extensive renovation in 2007 with updates predominantly to the green complexes. At 7,594 yards (the par 5 13th hole has been extended by 30 yards to 601 yards), the layout may look a brute on paper, however being at the altitude of the South African Highveld you can scrub around 10% off of those figures and players will tend to convert metres to yards for this type of test, so 6,900 or so is a more realistic figure to work with. The greens are USGA standard and feature relatively speedy (for the European Tour) A1/A4 bentgrass that measures around 12 on the stimpmeter.
The fairways were narrowed for the 2013 event to present a stiffer challenge from off the tee, plus with trees and water awaiting the more errant players this track isn't a pushover as has been reflected in the scoring over the last 2 seasons - with 4 scoreable par 5s, winning totals of -11 and -14 suggest that there's a level of difficulty here.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's BMW SA Open that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll 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: Brandon Stone, 55/1; 2015: Andy Sullivan, 33/1; 2013: Morten Orum Madsen, 80/1; 2012: Henrik Stenson, 14/1; 2011: Hennie Otto, 33/1; 2010: Ernie Els, 9/1. The years reflect the calendar year in which the event was played, not the European Tour season. For a full summary of 2016 winners' prices click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Johannesburg region is here. A wet run-up to the event has soften the course considerably and more rain and thunderstorms are expected at various points the 4 days. Play may well be affected at times and those players who can manage their emotions and attitude during stop-start events may well be favoured. Winds will be moderate at between 15-25 km/h at times, picking up when wet weather approaches the area.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. The 2013 event here was the first time that Glendower Golf Club had hosted the South African Open since 1997 so there's now 3 recent years of results to review, plus it's worth noting that the course also played host to the BMG Classic on the Sunshine Tour. Recent winners were: 2014: Merrick Bremner, -12 (3 rounds); 2013: Ulrich Van Den Berg, -15 (3 rounds); 2012 Teboho Sefatsa, -10 (3 rounds); 2011 James Kamte, -9 (3 rounds); 2010: Brandon Pieters, -11 (3 rounds); 2009 Graham DeLaet, -11 (3 rounds).
Analysing the winners here at Glendower for the past 3 renewals gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Sunday drama seems to be the norm at Glendower with both Charl Schwartzel and Hennie Otto throwing this event away in 2015 and 2013 respectively having both been in extremely commanding positions with 5 holes to play; Brandon Stone threatened to do something similar 12 months ago before rallying with 4 birdies in 5 holes from the 12th to eventually win by 2 shots. This is a course that can produce a lot of birdies when conditions are good, however when things a little tougher there's potential for bogey around every corner.
Looking at the winners and their stats above it's clear that no common style of play is likely to favoured here, an assertion backed up by 2012 BMG Classic (Sunshine Tour event, played here at Glendower GC) winner Teboho Sefatsa who describes his home track as 'as one of the country's best courses' stating that, 'The course does not favour the big-hitter or the deft short-game player. You need to bring an all-round game, and you need to play the course gracefully. Simply put, you need to hit straight and then follow up with quality shots.'
The only common factor for the past 3 years has been putting: Madsen was the lowest ranking of the 3 winners at 16th in the field, however Sullivan and Stone both had excellent weeks with the flat stick. To extend that point further, all but 2 of the (recorded) players finishing inside the top 10 for all 3 renewals also finished 22nd or better for putting on the week, so getting along with these speedy bentgrass greens seems to be a must.
Last year Stone was -10 for the par 5s and a total of 15 players reached that mark or better for the long holes which suggests that mastering these 16 chances over the 4 days is critical when the course is presented in good conditions. In 2013 Madsen was -13 for the week on the par 5s, Kruger was -11, Otto -9, Crespi -11 and Schwartzel -10 which tells a similar story; in tougher, wetter conditions from the rough in 2014 this was far less important though with eventual winner Andy Sullivan scoring -6 over the week on the par 5s and runner-up Charl Schwartzel one shot better at -7.
Incoming Form/Event Form Of Winner.
Some tangible recent(ish) form is evident from all however it's also worth noting that for each of these players that winning here was their first European Tour title.
Torrential rain in the in the area has done some damage to the course recently and more heavy rain in the days leading up to the event won't have helped matters, plus there's more expected during the course of the tournament itself. I suspect that this will have a couple of effects on how this week pans out: firstly, the course will play longer than normal and secondly it will play far tougher from the rough which will dampen scoring, potentially in a similar fashion to 2014.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below. New customers can also get a free £10 no deposit required bet with Sky Bet - perfect for covering off Rory McIlroy this week:
All things considered, my final selections are as follows:
I guess the only justification for opposing Rory McIlroy this week is if there's another player who may just have the edge in terms of the course here at Glendower. You could argue that Rory's wholesale change of equipment from last season - driver, woods, irons, wedges, putter and balls - may take some time to bed in when it comes to competition and that this unusual fixture for him to start his year is merely so he can experiment with his new tools, however the former World No.1 is still clearly a mile ahead of this field in terms of talent and could win this at a canter. This is also the Northern Irishman's first competitive outing at Glendower and at the miserly price on offer I'm happy to swerve this week in favour of the exciting young talent that is Brandon Stone.
Sometimes a player's chance is far too obvious and they fail to live up to punters' expectations. A battling 2-shot victory here 12 months ago - having seemingly spurned his chance early on in the final round - secured the 23 year-old his maiden European Tour victory having shown some real promise when cruising home by 5 strokes a few weeks before on the Sunshine Tour in Cape Town. A solid defence of that lower-level trophy on his penultimate start (finished 2nd) was then swiftly followed up by a second European Tour title on home soil when he romped to a 7-stroke victory last time out at Leopard Creek.
Of course backing the defending champion plus a player who's arriving off the back of a victory equals a poor price, however if there's one man who could upset favourite backers here then it's the South African in my view. Aside from his win here last year, Stone has fond memories of the layout having competed here regularly in a sparkling amateur career and that liking for the track was reinforced with a practice round of 61 here on Monday. After a little downtime over the festive period, the World No. 72 has been working hard to get himself in perfect condition for this week and another contending performance is quite likely on the cards.
A little further down the list, George Coetzee looks a fair each-way price this week at 40/1 given his record at altitude and in South Africa in general. 2 of the Pretorian's 3 European Tour victories have come on home soil (2014 Joburg Open, 2015 Tshwane Open) as have 5 of his 6 other Sunshine Tour successes and a fit and healthy Coetzee should never be discounted in this kind of field.
Having broken his ankle mid-way through the 2015 season, George can be excused for missing the cut here last year on his first start since the previous summer; a similar effort the previous year came at a time when his long game was in a bad state and the punishment here for those who miss too many fairways and greens is severe. This year though he arrives fit, healthy and with a long game that's seen him rank inside the top-12 for Total Driving on 5 of his last 6 starts and the top-18 for ball-striking again in 5 out of 6 events over that same stretch. With his long game on track, that's seemingly taken the pressure off of his excellent putting stroke and he recorded his best putting average since his ankle injury at Leopard Creek (1.59 putts per GIR) on his last start. Well capable of hitting the ground running in a new year - he produced finishes of 9/2/3 in 2013 in his first 3 starts of the year then bettered that in 2014 with a form line of 4/5/1 - I can see the 30 year-old rewarding each-way backers here this week or better.
This course/event combination has been good for European Tour maidens over the past 3 renewals and if that trend is going to continue then the most exciting prospects in my view are Thomas Detry and Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
23 year-old Thomas Detry is a good friend of the Team Europe's Ryder Cup star Thomas Pieters and there's a lot of expectation that this youngster could be another massive star of the future. In just 22 OWGR ranking events, the Belgian has racked up 6 top-10 finishes in all competitions plus 25th at the Open de France on European Tour debut and 3rd at Leopard Creek on his penultimate start. What really catches the eye though is his Bridgestone Challenge win last year on the European Tour's second tier where he broke all manner of records on his way to a 29-under total and a 12-stroke victory as he literally strolled to victory. An opening round of 60 that week at Heythrop Park (classical, parkland track with bentgrass-based greens) was followed up with a 67, 69 and 63 as we got a breathtaking glimpse of the potential that this lad holds. Forget his missed cut at Fanling - that quirky track catches many a player out with its layout and Bermuda greens - instead I'm more than happy to take the price on offer about a player who finished in the each way places on his only start to date on South African soil and has plenty more to offer in 2017.
Finally I'm backing last season's runner-up Christiaan Bezuidenhout who is a previous course winner back in 2015 on the Big Easy Tour and has since recorded his first Sunshine Tour victory at the Sun Fish River Challenge. The 22 year-old was South Africa's highest ranked amateur before suffering a 9-month ban due to the use of beta blockers, however with that in the past he's clearly focussing on what could be a very promising career. The Pretoria man has ranked inside the top-9 for ball-striking on each of his last 6 starts on the Sunshine Tour and produced his best recorded putting performance on his last start at Leopard Creek. With course form of 1/2 in all competitions, it's fairly clear that the South African likes this layout and with the confidence of his maiden Sunshine Tour success he could well go close again this year.
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