The penultimate tournament of 5 in South Africa takes us to the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club where Charl Schwartzel defends his trophy for the second consecutive year as he seeks a Joburg Open hat-trick. Schwartzel is hot favourite once this week as last week's winner (and our top tip) Louis Oosthuizen isn't attending - at the time of writing, the best price available on Charl to retain his trophy was a miserly 7/2, however that's probably a fair reflection of his strength relative to the rest of the field this week.
This is the sixth outing for this tournament at this course so we have some good course history and analysis this week to help us with our selections - why not have a play with this week's predictor if you don't agree with my selections below?
This week's tournament is played over the East and West courses at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington, each of which present a very different challenge to the players: the first 2 days alternate between the 2 courses; following the cut, the East course alone hosts the weekend's finale. The West course is the easier of the 2 at 7,146 yards (par 71) featuring generous greens to those who can find the fairways; the East course is much tighter where high Greens In Regulation is a prerequisite, plus at 7,590 (par 71) is amongst the longest on the European Tour.
These co-sanctioned events have an increasing habit of going to form and I suspect that Schwartzel is going to prove a worthy favourite in a similar fashion to Oosthuizen last week. The scoring is set to be low once again this year with only a moderate breeze expected in between the frequent thundery showers - those showers may well cause a few delays over the 4 days so some patience may be required to prevail.
My selections for this week then are as follows:
Try as I might, I simply cannot ignore Schwartzel from my staking plan this week. As the highest ranked player in the field (9th in the OWGR), the reigning Masters champion is head and shoulders above the vast majority of players in this field in terms of pedigree. The fact he's best-priced 7/2 to secure a hat-trick of Joburg Open titles says all you need to know about his chances here - the bookies are quite simply running scared. 7/2 in a field of 200 is mighty short however and, as with Louis Oosthuizen last week, I'm treating this as more of a saver bet than an all-out punt.
Schwartzel's record in South Africa is beyond question: 5 wins in total at the age of 27, including the 2 aforementioned victories here in his hometown of Johannesburg. Last year's single shot victory over Garth Mulroy was a little closer than his 6-shot triumph in 2010, however a win's still a win and he'll arrive here full of confidence with a form line of 12/9/4/5 in his last 4 European Tour event, all achieved in much, much better company than this affair. RESULT: M/C
Last week's return to competitive action for the 5-time European Tour winner attracted a watching brief from myself, however Sterne proved an excellent choice for his supporters who were rewarded with a 6th place finish at 66/1 for those who backed him with Ladbrokes. The bookies are taking no such chances this week and 25/1 is currently the best you'll get about the Pretorian who now lives in Cape Town, however that price is still potentially too long to resist in a field of this quality if you exclude the market-leader.
The former Joburg Open winner (2008) looked to have lost none of his aggressive style as he plundered 23 birdies and 2 eagles around East London last week, despite an 11-month layoff due to his back injury. Moving to the longer Joburg Open East Course will suit Sterne down to the ground - he lead the way in terms of driving distance last week - and he'll be looking for a 6th win in South Africa this week if he can overcome his short-priced compatriot. RESULT: M/C
Whenever there's a long, tree-lined parkland-style course to contend with, one of my kneejerk reactions is to always look at what kind of form Danny Willett is in. After a disappointing start to 2011 where he was plagued with a niggling rib injury, the Sheffield-based bomber finally started to swing more freely and string a few results together as the season drew to a close. His 21st place finish in Hong Kong may not sound brilliant, however that followed an opening day 75 and rounds of 66/68/69 was a better return Friday-to-Sunday than eventual winner Rory McIlroy.
Last week's 7th place finish in East London was disappointing in that it ended with a 73, however that's the first time that Willett's been in contention for a year or so and he can be excused as far as I'm concerned. If anything, the experience will make him stronger and this course should suit him more this week as previous top-5 finishes demonstrate. 25/1 is a short price about a European Tour maiden, however I thoroughly expect Willett to be in the mix and with all the pressure of expectation being on Charl Schwartzel he could quietly sneak up on the rails to break his duck if Schwartzel slips at all...RESULT: T14
South African Open champion Hennie Otto completes my trio of most likely contenders to Schwartzel's probable title. Otto has a reputation as hot-headed, however his demeanour at the Serengeti Golf Club in November was impressive - particularly when you consider it was to win his coveted home Open Championship. Truth is, Otto had been playing great golf with finishes of 16/20/7 before his triumph - he then proceeded to bank a healthy cheque in Dubai with a 22nd place finish after a near-flawless final round of 67.
Back on his favourite bentgrass putting surface, in his most successful country in terms of results, I can see Otto contending here once again. 3rd here in 2007 (-16) and 6th in 2010 (-12) suggests he's got the measure of this course when playing well - for me, given his current form, this is the best chance yet of a Joburg Open trophy for the Boksburg native. RESULT: M/C
South Africans dominated this event last year with 7 players inside the final top 10 being local players, however nobody is more local then Johannesburg-born Mark Murless and few will have played anywhere near as many rounds at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club as the 35 year-old.
4 times a winner on the Sunshine Tour, Murless hasn't enjoyed the best of form since a purple patch between 2006 and 2008 where he finished inside the top 7 in the Sunshine Tour Order Of Merit for 3 consecutive seasons. This bet for me though is all about this particular player on this particular course, and finishes of 4th here in 2007 and 5th in 2008 (when he should have won after leading for 3 days) are all I need to make a small speculative investment. May well miss the cut, then again he might just make the frame at a huge, huge price...RESULT: M/C
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:25GMT 10.1.12 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!