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After the short festive break, we're ready and raring to go as the European Tour's 2018 events get underway in South Africa. The season may already be 4 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 Justin Rose to name but a few.
With the Ryder Cup to look forward at Le Golf National later in the year, expect players with aspirations of making Thomas Bjorn's team to feature heavily in the bigger events of the European Tour schedule this year, however there are also a number of smaller tournaments to look forward to. New events in Oman and the Philippines as well as alternative format events in Perth, for the 2nd running of the World Super 6, plus the new Belgian Knockout event hosted by Thomas Pieters will add a new level of variety to the schedule which will also feature a total of 8 Rolex Series events.
If you're into your fantasy golf then our European Tour contests kick off this week, details as follows:
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). Ernie Els plays host this week as the 107th South African Open takes us back to Glendower Golf Club on the outskirts of Johannesburg to kick-start the 2018 events on the European Tour.
Glendower GC, Gauteng, Johannesburg. Designer: Charles Hugh 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 layout may look a brute on paper, however being at the altitude of the South African Highveld, which sits around 1,500 metres above sea level, you can scrub around 10% off of those figures and players will tend to convert metres to yards for this type of test, so sub-7,000 yards is a more realistic figure to work with. The greens are USGA standard and feature relatively speedy A1/A4 bentgrass that the greenkeeping staff are hoping to have around 12 on the stimpmeter by Thursday.
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 was reflected in the scoring when Andy Sullivan won here at 11-under courtesy of some tougher conditions from the rough. The course superintendent hasn't been so brutal with his set-up the last two renewals with 14-under (Stone) and 18-under (Storm) getting the job done, however there's more than a subtle hint in this video from Glendower Golf Club that the course is going to be set up closer to the 2013 levels this time around which should keep a lid on the winning score.
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 | Combined Current & Tournament Form.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Graeme Storm, 150/1; 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 2017 winners' prices click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Johannesburg region is here. A very wet December has finally given way to more settled weather with warm and sunny conditions expected for the most part after a final dousing on Tuesday. As always at this time of year in this part of the world there's a risk of thunderstorms, however at the time of writing that risk is fairly low and looks confined mostly to Thursday. Wind should be light throughout with a breeze of 5-10 mph hardly likely to bother the professionals.
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 4 recent years of results to review, plus it's worth noting that the course also previously 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 4 renewals gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
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 4 years has been putting: Madsen was the lowest ranking of the 4 winners at 16th in the field, however Sullivan, Stone and Storm all had excellent weeks with the flat stick. To extend that point further, all but 3 of the (recorded) players finishing inside the top 6 for all 4 renewals also finished 22nd or better for putting on the week, so getting along with these speedy bentgrass greens seems to be a must.
Par-5 scoring is another important factor at Glendower. Last year Graeme Storm was 9-under for the par 5s with his closest challengers Rory McIlory and Jordan Smith both producing 13-under totals on the long holes for the week. In 2016 Brandon Stone was -10 for the par 5s and a total of 15 players reached that mark or better for the long holes over the course of the week. 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, far wetter conditions from the rough in 2015 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.
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 in 2016 before rallying with 4 birdies in 5 holes from the 12th to eventually win by 2 shots. Last year Graeme Storm, who'd had an 11th hour reprieve in the autumn to keep his card thanks to Patrick Reed not completing his requisite number of events, relinquished a 3-shot overnight lead to Rory McIlroy before keeping his cool on the third play-off hole to beat the former World No.1 and secure his first European Tour title for nigh-on a decade.
Incoming Form: In terms of incoming form, the winners here at Glendower had all shown some signs of life before their victory. Morten Madsen had produced a 66-64 weekend at the Dunhill Links 3 events prior to secure his hitherto biggest cheque of the season at the back end of 2013; Andy Sullivan had also bagged his biggest earning week 3 events earlier by finishing 4th in Turkey; Brandon Stone had secured his first professional title (Lion of Africa Cape Town Open) 2 events prior to winning here in 2016 and Graeme Storm had produced his best effort of the calendar year by finishing 4th at Leopard Creek 2 events before winning here last year:
Course Form (back to 2009): Course form doesn't look overly relevant this week although that assertion can be tempered by the fact that aside from the Sunshine Tour regulars, opportunities to play Glendower prior to Morten Madsen's win were few and far between. Brandon Stone's course form is perhaps the most revealing as he'd missed the cut twice before winning on his third attempt; Andy Sullivan, on the other hand, after recording course form of 12/1 has subsequently missed the cut twice here:
Although the European Tour season is already 4 events down, the festive break means a downing of tools for most golfers and for all intents and purposes players are starting the season for real here this week and next in Abu Dhabi. Some players can hit the ground running after a break, others may be rusty after focussing on partying rather than sharpening their games over the past few weeks. Nevertheless this is an important and prestigious title, especially for the South Africans, and many will be looking to get 2018 off to a flying start with a contending performance here.
Thicker rough and fast greens will offer the course some protection this year, however a calm forecast and relatively soft conditions on the fairways will balance that to a large degree and I'd expect aggressive players who can keep enough of their drives in play from off the tee to thrive here this week. Despite being set up to reward accuracy, the key to unlocking this course has been to attack the par 5s and putt well on the slick bentgrass greens whilst minimising errors from tee-to-green. I suspect that players of any particular style could contend this week, however those with the ability to take on and score on the long holes having kept the ball in play from off the tee are my favoured route.
My selections are as follows:
Home favourites Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel dominate the 2018 BMW SA Open betting market at around 6/1 and 7/1 respectively, however despite being the highest ranked players in the field I'm happy to oppose them both this week.
OWGR No. 30 Grace won his penultimate event of 2017 on South African soil at the higher-class Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player's Sun City track, however he's not been seen in action since finishing a disappointing 31st the week after in Dubai and the 29 year-old has since had eye surgery which puts me off any kind of investment here. For me, Grace is a player who needs to be fully warmed-up and in a run of form to produce his best golf and this week's event may well catch him a little cold. Compatriot Schwartzel, who ranks 4 places behind Grace in the OWGR, hasn't produced a worldwide top-10 in over 6 months with his runner-up finish to Daniel Berger at St Jude his last really meaningful effort back in June on the PGA Tour. The former Masters champion used to lap the field in the co-sanctioned European Tour/Sunshine Tour events - indeed 8 of his 11 European Tour successes have come in this format - however the SA Open itself has always eluded him and there's scar tissue to contend with too having blown a golden chance to win this back in 2015.
Of the remainder of the field, the player I feel has the biggest opportunity to win here is Jordan Smith and I'm happy to lead with him at a backable 28/1. Long, accurate driving is the Englishman's key weapon - 6 times he led the field for Total Driving in 2017 - and his style of play should suit Glendower GC down to the ground. Since breaking our hearts when beating our 33/1 shot Alex Levy in a play-off in Germany at the end of July, the 25 year-old has gone on to secure his maiden Major top-10 finish at the first time of asking at the Quail Hollow-hosted US PGA Championship which ultimately helped him finish in a lofty 24th place in the final Race To Dubai rankings. Illness forced the Wiltshire man to pull out of the Nedbank as the season was drawing to a close and he clearly wasn't 100% as he opened with a round of 75 at the Earth Course on his last appearance of 2017, however rounds of 67, 71 and 66 meant he finished the season in a positive fashion.
Second relative to this field for par-5 scoring on the European Tour for 2017 gets Jordan another big tick in the box and having finished 3rd here on debut last year and just a shot outside the play-off courtesy of a disappointing 71st-hole bogey, his suitability to this course is there for all to see. Having escaped the cold and damp conditions of England for much more suitable training conditions in Dubai, I'd expect the talented young Englishman to hit the ground running here and have a good stab at securing this second European Tour title this week. RESULT: MC
Having dominated this event in the early part of this century, the South African players haven't had it all their own way in recent times. After Zimbabwean Mark McNulty secured his second SA Open title in 2001, the locals went on to win 10 of the next 11 events with only Richie Ramsay in 2009 offering any kind of respite. Brandon Stone's 2016 victory has been the only bright spark since that time though, however if the Rainbow Nation are to be celebrating another home-grown winner this week then Haydn Porteous and Erik Van Rooyen may present the best options.
Twice a winner on the European Tour now, Haydn Porteous has the raw power and par-5 scoring ability to contend at this event provided he can keep his fair share of drives in play from off the tee. The Johannesburg native secured his maiden Challenge Tour victory at the Kenya Open in 2015 before stepping up to European Tour level and quickly adding the Joburg Open title to his name at the same kind of altitude to this week's test. A prolonged spell of indifferent form followed with missed cuts dominating his results, however we saw the 23 year-old start last season's campaign with a far more compliant driver and with that the results began to flow, culminating in a second European Tour title in the Czech Republic on another long course with a bit of altitude and 12-stimp bentgrass greens. The South African had ranked 8th and 4th for Total Driving on his previous 2 outings and he duly obliged at 66/1 and whilst there's been a break between his last appearance and this week, 6th for Total Driving at the Joburg Open is a far more relevant stat in my opinion than his eventual 49th place finish. Clearly a talented lad who's capable of winning this level of event, his two missed cuts in this event over the past two years will put some punters off I'm sure, however it's worth noting that he overcame course from of 60/MC at his aforementioned victory in Prague and he's also finished 3rd here at Glendower on the Sunshine Tour's BMG Classic back in 2014. RESULT: MC
Having muddled around the Sunshine Tour since 2013, Erik Van Rooyen's two wins in 2017 - one on the Sunshine Tour and the other on the Challenge Tour - coupled with a decent 3rd place at the Grand Final have given the 27 year-old a chance at the European Tour proper this season, and that was a chance he came within 3 shots of taking on his last start at the nearby Joburg Open. 2nd behind an extremely impressive performance from Shubhankar Sharma isn't to be sniffed at though and this week's BMW SA Open is on familiar terrain - he's played here 5 times competitively already over the course of his short career with a best of 10th in 2014. Long and relatively accurate hitting is once again the order of the say with Van Rooyen and with over 90% of greens in regulation found over 72 holes on his last start he's difficult to ignore, even if the price is starting to become a little prohibitive. RESULT: T20
Rather than putting all of my eggs in one basket, I'm going to complete this week's team with a couple of more conservative players who could well come to the fore if scoring does prove to be close to the -11 level that we saw in 2015. First up Jason Scrivener whose incoming form reminds me a lot of 2016 winner Brandon Stone. Like Stone, Scrivener has recently secured his maiden professional title having been touted for some time as a winner-in-waiting and although the NSW Open Championship is hardly going to go down in history as one of golf's greatest events, a 6-shot victory and closing round of 65 to secure the title is nevertheless impressive and bound to breed confidence. Whilst not as powerful as my other selections above, the Australian has sufficient accuracy to plot a successful course around Glendower if it indeed plays tougher than the past couple of years. 15th on his last start of 2017 may not stand out massively, however 2nd for Total Driving with over 80% of fairways hit suggests that his long game is in good health and course from of 11/12 from two attempts is a strong foundation from which to grow. RESULT: MC
Finally I'm going to back another player who has a similarly impressive record here at Glendower to that of Scrivener in the shape of James Morrison. 22nd here on debut back in 2013 (3rd for putting average), 15th in 2015 (4th for GIR) and 13th last year shows good progression and with two top-10 finishes in his final three events of 2017 there's decent scope for further improvement on his course form here this week. South African form in 2017 of 13/4/6/6 suggests that he's more than comfortable in this part of the world and his long game looked in excellent shape on his last start before the Christmas break as he led the field for Driving Accuracy and was 4th for GIR on his way to a personal best Joburg Open effort. If this turns out to be an all-out bomber's course this week then the 32 year-old will need to be at his very best to contend, however if the course superintendent's plans come to fruition and this layout does play a little more challenging then I can see Morrison going well here once again. RESULT: MC
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel