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The fifth and final event in South Africa of the 2016 season that began in November takes us to Pretoria Country Club in Waterkloof, Pretoria and just a few miles north of the two previous events already played in Johannesburg in 2016. The Pretoria CC hosted its first European Tour event last season, however the 106 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 defending champion Coetzee, who is still attached to the club to this day, put his local knowledge to good use last year as he held off Jacques Blaauw who'd blasted his way through the field with a final round 61.
Over one the PGA Tour Steve Bamford previews the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Pretoria CC. Designer: Grimsdel, 1910 with Player re-design 2004. Course Type: Classical, Parkland; Par: 70; Length: 7,063 yards; Water Hazards: 8; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu; Greens: Bentgrass, 10 on the stimpmeter. 2015 scoring average: 70.53, Rd1: 70.80, Rd2: 70.16, Rd3: 70.42, Rd4: 70.53.
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 last year, 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.
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 event was 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.
Winners & Prices. 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 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Waterkloof region is here. Thunderstorms on Monday and Tuesday will soften the course a little ahead of warm, calm and sunny conditions for the days of tournament play with just a small chance of further electrical activity.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Stats from the last year's event give us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
With the top 5 finishers last year all struggling to hit much better than two-thirds of greens in regulation, the deciding factor was ultimately down to who performed best on and around the greens. Coetzee led the field for scrambling at 75% - indeed he only made 5 bogeys all week which is excellent for a player of his style - and he also ranked 4th for putting when he did find the greens in regulation. 2nd place Jacques Blaauw also ranked 4th for putting which was driven largely from excellent final round of 61.
If you can put the fact that Coetzee won 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 who relies on a strong wedge game and touch around the greens is the favoured combination here.
Incoming Form/Event Form Of Winner. Last year's 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. For a summary of 2015 winners' current/event form prior to winning click here.
My selections are as follows:
Opposing the two short-priced favourites here might prove to be a dangerous game given their undoubted class, however at more than 4 times the price of Coetzee - and an even stronger differential to Schwartzel - I'm happy to support David Horsey here on a course that suits him very nicely indeed. Schwartzel's return to competitive action in 2016 was delayed following an illness that saw him hospitalised over Christmas and he may need an event or two to get fully back into the swing of things. Coetzee is defending this week and that always adds a level of pressure and commitment and, by his own estimation, it's still going to take some months before the ankle he broke last year is 100% pain-free. If he's going to successfully defend here he's going to need to putt well, "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." he said before last year's victory and the same principle holds this year in my view. If truth be told though, he's not been putting to his normal standard so far in 2016 with 1.76 putts per GIR (36th in the field) his best effort on that count this term and that's my biggest concern for him this week.
So with the market leaders swerved I'm backing Englishman Horsey to notch his 5th European Tour victory here this week. A winning total around the low teens is perfect for David - 3 of his 4 wins have come at 13-under par - and a short, fiddly track that puts the emphasis on short game excellence is ideal for the 30 year-old to show us his wares. Finishes of 31st (Joburg), 35th (Abu Dhabi) and 36th (Dubai) have featured a consistent long game and he's close to another contending performance, "Pretty solid week but slightly disappointed all the same. Game is there, giving myself chances. Just need a few more to drop." he said on twitter after last week. Any kind of improvement with the putter - which we know he's more than capable of - and he could well have carve out a decent chance to win here.
Horsey was part of the 6-way log-jam heading into the final round here last year before a stretch of 4 bogeys in 5 holes early in the back 9 on Sunday finally put paid to his chances. He'd played nicely to that point though, opening with a flawless 63 to share the opening round lead on a course that clearly suited his game. A return to more familiar Bentgrass greens after the Bermuda of the Middle East might provide the final piece of the jigsaw here for David whose most recent 2 wins in Russia and Denmark have both come on the same putting surface and after seeing compatriots Danny Willett and Andy Sullivan battle it out in Dubai he may well be spurred on to success here this week. RESULT: T14
If short game expertise is to shine through this year then Brett Rumford is the kind of player who can contend for this title. Rummy started in excellent fashion here last season, opening with a bogey-free 64 before being forced to withdraw after the second round with a mystery illness when in a decent spot. It transpired that a piece of apple had become lodged causing a blockage in his digestive system and 30cm of intestine was eventually removed from his stomach - understandably it took some time for him to get over it and, after attempting to return to action at The Open, he quite rightly took a few months off to fully recover.
The fitness regime that the Australian undertook to help get back in shape following surgery reaped immediate dividends as he won the Western Australia PGA Championship on his competitive return to action in November which he then followed up with a 6th place finish at the UNIQLO Masters and 8th at the Australian Open. 3 consecutive paid weekends in the Middle East and a far more consistent long game than prior to his hospitalisation bodes well for a strong performance here this week on a layout that plays to his strengths around the greens. 5 European Tour titles includes victory at the fiddly track at Crans in 2007 plus Bentgrass-greened back-to-back successes at the Ballantine's Championship and Volvo China Open in 2013 - all of which provide positive pointers for this week and, like Horsey, a target score of around -14 is spot on given all of his victories at this level have come between -11 and -16. RESULT: T7
If the favourites are to falter then this looks like a great opportunity for some of the up-and-coming players to make their mark here. A couple that have already made their breakthrough this season, Brandon Stone and Haydn Porteous, could easily feature again here; Zander Lombard and Christiaan Bezuidenhout have both produced strong efforts on South African soil of late and the putting form of Ross McGowan is worthy of note. All things considered though, I'm finishing this week's team with the following trio:
Firstly Daniel Im who looks well capable of winning an event of this stature given his performances in nearby Johannesburg last month. The American grabbed his first Challenge Tour win in Switzerland via a play-off last June and went on to secure his European Tour card via Q-School in November to give himself another chance at this level after playing for large parts of 2014 on partial status. Until this year the 30 year-old's best finish at this level had been 7th at the Lyoness Open in 2014, however 8th at the BMW SA Open and 3rd at the Joburg Open before the tour headed off to the desert suggests he's stepped up a level and could well push on here. Both of those efforts featured excellent driving accuracy (8th and 3rd in the field) as well as strong short game stats including 7th and 1st for scrambling and top-14 efforts with the putter in both events. Whilst the SA Open effort may have been flattered somewhat by an excellent final round of 65, the Joburg Open 3rd was a far more contending performance having started Sunday from the penultimate group and the experience of that effort should give him a real boost as he moves forward this year. RESULT: T40
I backed Jacques Blaauw at the Joburg Open and he squeaked a return for us that week courtesy of repeating his previous year's effort and some rare extra place generosity that week from the bookies this side of the Atlantic. If he could take the positive vibes of returning to familiar surroundings that week then he should be positively ecstatic about returning to Pretoria where came mighty close to producing an off-the-pace final day shock courtesy of his sublime Sunday round of 61 here 12 month ago. The 29 year-old has shown his best form at European Tour level in these co-sanctioned events in his homeland and this type of event still looks his best chance of breaking through at this level event even though he's clearly becoming more self-assured in general. The 3-time Sunshine Tour winner is likely to take a far more direct route to success here and if he can recreate the fireworks from last season then he stands a chance once again. RESULT: T53
Finally I'll take a punt on Dylan Frittelli who, like Daniel Im, seems to be increasingly finding his feet at this kind of level and could push on to bigger and better things this year. An accurate sort primarily, the 25 year-old missed out in a play-off at the co-sanctioned Australian PGA Championship in December, however his tee-to-green performance that week was bettered by just one player and that kind of performance will give him more chances of a breakthrough at this level if he can keep it up. 81.9% of greens in regulation at the SA Open is also impressive on his way to a top-20 finish, however the real eye-opener for me was his putting performance on the Bentgrass greens of Leopard Creek (1.63 putts, 2nd in the field) when he finished 11th. The Johannesburg native will clearly feel at home this week - indeed he finished 10th here last year with 4 rounds in the 60s - and another bold showing is eminently achievable if he can put together all the positive aspects of recent performances. RESULT: T14
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