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The fourth of five South African events in this 2017 season that began back in December takes us to Pretoria Country Club in Waterkloof, Pretoria and just a few miles north of the two previous events already played in Johannesburg this year. The Pretoria CC hosted its first European Tour event in 2015, however the 107 year-old club is no stranger to professional golf having hosted a number of Sunshine Tour events in the relatively recent past, including a smattering of Vodacom Championship and Vodacom Origins of Golf events between 2005-2011.
Pretorians Richard Sterne and George Coetzee are both products of Pretoria CC and Coetzee, who is still attached to the club to this day, put his local knowledge to good use 2 years ago as he held off Jacques Blaauw who'd blasted his way through the field with a final round 61. Compatriot Charl Schwartzel strolled to an eight-shot victory here 12 months ago, however the former Masters champion won't be here to defend his title this week given that this event clashes with the WGC in Mexico City that also takes place this week.
Talking of the WGC Mexico Championship, you can read my preview for that event here.
Pretoria CC. Designer: Grimsdel, 1910 with Player re-design 2004. Course Type: Classical, Parkland; Par: 71; Length: 7,081 yards; Water Hazards: 8; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu; Greens: Bentgrass, 10 on the stimpmeter.
Course Overview. The course here at Pretoria Country Club is a Bob Grimsdel classic that received a pretty hefty Gary Player overhaul a decade ago to toughen it up for the modern golfer. The parkland course is tree-lined with tight landing areas and long, wispy grass waiting to punish errant drives alongside water hazards on nearly half of the holes. What was once a very straightforward layout has been toughened to a degree by Player with the addition of more than 90 bunkers, some of which are deep pot-bunkers, however in calm conditions the professionals can still score heavily as was evident by Hennie Otto's 28-under total to win the 2010 Vodacom Championship here with the course playing as a par 72.
Despite playing over par (on average) each day for the past 2 renewals, players who got the measure of the layout scored heavily with Adrian Otaegui threatening a second round 59 at one point and Jacques Blaauw finishing off with a blistering 61 in 2015, plus 6 rounds of 64 or better were recorded last year, however with only 20 players finishing under par last year this course clearly isn't a complete pushover. The front 9 tends to play easier than the back 9 with the par-5 9th offering plenty of birdie and eagle opportunities to those who can find the fairway from the tee. The 511 yard par-4 4th will likely be the hardest hole this week with the 514 yard 18th reverting back to a par 5 for this year's event to hopefully provide an exciting finish on Sunday.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Tshwane Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event. Please note that only the 2015 & 2016 events were played on this track here in Pretoria: 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: Charl Schwartzel, 6/1; 2015: George Coetzee, 20/1; 2014: Ross Fisher, 28/1; 2013: Dawie Van Der Walt, 100/1. For a summary of winners odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the completed 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Waterkloof region is here. At the present time there's a chance of electrical activity for the first two days which may well cause interruptions to play, however the thunderstorms don't look as extensive as last week thankfully. Temperatures will peak in the high 70s Fahrenheit with light to moderate winds.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Stats from the last two renewals gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
With the exception of Charl Schwartzel whose irons were in top form last year, all other players who finished in the top 5 over both years that we've played here in Pretoria have struggled to hit much better than two-thirds of greens in regulation given the small greens. Birdie conversion is way down on a regular event here on this Grimsdel design, so minimising bogeys whilst picking up the occasional birdie or eagle on the scoreable holes is the order of the day.
If you can put the fact that Coetzee won here in 2015 to one side for a moment, the course in theory suits a far more measured and strategic player. The layout is short and fiddly with positional play with irons and woods the typical play from the tee as opposed to simply smashing the driver as far as possible. Of course this can benefit a wayward player if they don't have to get a problematic driver out of the bag very often, however a shorter, more accurate type is the favoured combination here.
Incoming Form/Event Form Of Winner.
Last year's winner Charl Schwartzel was making his first appearance of the year here at the time, however he'd finished off the previous year in fine style with 4th at the DP World Tour Championship, a win at Leopard Creek and 9th at Sun City before taking a break over the festive period. The South African had also produced course form of 1/8/5/2 over the years on the Sunshine Tour to suggest that taking the 6/1 price was a good move, which it proved to be of course as he cruised home by 8 strokes.
2015 winner George Coetzee arrived here fresh from a missed cut the week before at the Africa Open. Prior to that though he'd finished 24th at the Joburg Open (2nd for putting) and 16th at the Dimension Data Pro-Am (1st for GIR) to suggest that he wasn't fair away from a contending performance. As well as being Coetzee's home track, he'd also finished 2nd and 7th here in 2011 and 2007 respectively on the Sunshine Tour. Despite the fact that he won, I find this quote from Coetzee quite revealing, "There are some advantages to knowing the course as well as I do, but it suits a certain type of golfer. Hopefully I make enough putts to make up for that." - clearly he did that year, however in theory the course should suit a far more accurate type of player.
Bookmaker Offers: A few bookmakers have extended their each-way terms for the Tshwane Open. 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 Tshwane Open tips are as follows:
If it's a straight hitter that we're looking for who can find more than his fair share of greens in regulation then few could argue that Thomas Aiken fits the bill very nicely indeed. 7th for driving accuracy for the full 2016 European Tour season and 1st for GIR with a whopping 79.2% is the perfect platform to attack this fiddly track that requires precision both from off the tee and with approaches into these small putting surfaces. Of course, as with many players of the same type, it's the putter that determines whether the ball-striking excellence is adequately rewarded from week to week and any kind of spark with the flat stick tends to reap rewards in terms of contending performances for Thomas.
Now I'm not going to tell you that the Johannesburg native has been putting lights out this season - far from it and he still regularly frustrates with the flat stick - however what we have seen this season is 5 from 7 events result in a putting average in the 1.7s and that, for a player like Aiken, is a very positive sign. 3 top-5 finishes from those 7 starts has been the reward so far for the 33 year-old's efforts and with two of those results coming on home soil I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him in the mix again here this week. A slow start on the easier course last week was never going to be conducive to a lofty finish in a weather-shortened event, however to his credit Aiken did shoot 8-under on the tougher East Course making 12 birdies in the process to give him some confidence ahead of his return to Pretoria CC.
Ultimately it's the 3-time European Tour winner's form on this track that gets him the nod over those at the top of the betting - 9/3/2/34/6/9/3 from his 7 competitive starts on this track on the Sunshine Tour is impressive and in this weak affair he's got to be fancied to put himself in the mix for another title here this week if the putter is anything but stone cold. RESULT: T15
It's difficult to overlook the progressive form of James Morrison in this quality of field and the 32 year-old may well continue to advance on South African soil again this week while his game's in good shape. Save for a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, the Englishman's 2017 season form reads 13/23/12/4 and last week's effort contained just 2 bogeys over the 3 days which equals his career best effort and sets him up nicely for this week's challenge.
Twice a winner on the European Tour including most recently at the Spanish Open in 2015, Morrison has tangible form on the classical, tree-lined tracks on the European Tour circuit including finishes of 10th and 11th at Wentworth over the years as well as 4th behind Beef at Valderrama last year and this course will hold no fears despite missing the cut in a period when he was struggling with his approach play back in early 2015. 75.9% of greens in regulation last week suggests that's far less of an issue at present and with his shot-saving short game on point at present I wouldn't be surprised to seem him go close here this week on his favoured bentgrass greens. RESULT: T6
I was pleasantly surprised with the 66/1 chalked up about Paul Peterson this week and it's clear that the American still hovers below the radar as far as the bookies are concerned, even after staring down the talented Thomas Pieters in the Czech Republic last year. That win was as impressive as it was unexpected for a player with a flimsy status on the European Tour at the time and flitting between the Asian Tour and Europe, however with his exemption tucked away he can play with far more freedom and that showed as he opened last week's Joburg Open with a flawless 62 on the shorter West Course.
Not the longest off the tee by any stretch of the imagination, the 28 year-old struggled a little on the wet and significantly longer East Course over his final two rounds, however a birdie-birdie finish elevated him into a tie for 7th place to boost his confidence ahead of a week that should suit him far more given the shorter set-up and tighter layout. Prior to Paul's win last summer, he'd been striking the ball very nicely on the Asian Tour ranking 1st and 5th for ball-striking at the Queen's Cup and Yeangder Tournament Players Championship in the lead up to his victory. 83.9% Driving Accuracy and 80.6% GIR in Malaysia as well as 78.6%/83.3% on the same two measures last week in Johannesburg suggests to me that he's in a similar vein of form with his long game right now and a return to pure bentgrass greens, as per his aforementioned success in Prague, can only be seen as a positive in my opinion. RESULT: T37
With an event full of Sunshine Tour players with seemingly stronger recent form, it would be easy to overlook a player like Gregory Havret who has some of the most solid credentials in this field. 3 times a European Tour winner and a Major runner-up over the years, the 40 year-old may not have won for nearly 9 years but every now and then he produces snippets of form to remind us that he can compete on tracks that play to his strengths.
Still one of the more accurate players on Tour - his last 6 events where he's received a paycheque have seen Driving Accuracy ranks of 2/11/4/5/4/11 - and he also hit three-quarters of greens in regulation on his last start in Malaysia where he ultimately finished 11th. A single visit to Pretoria CC in 2015 resulted in a missed cut, however earlier career form in South Africa includes runner-up finishes at both the Dunhill Championship (2004) and the SA Open (2005) as well as another top 5 finish at the SA Open later that same year. The former French and European amateur champion came closest to adding to his European Tour CV in 2014 when losing out in a play-off in Germany to Fabrizio Zanotti and the Paraguayan's win a fortnight ago may well act as a timely reminder that these smaller events are there for the taking. RESULT: T15