Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Joburg Open Tips 2020

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A 3-event South African swing plugs the final gap in the schedule to take us up to the European Tour’s finale at the Earth Course in a little under a month’s time. Randpark Golf Club in Johannesburg hosts the Joburg Open this week, before we head to Leopard Creek then Sun City for the South African Open.

Qualification for the DP World Tour Championship will run all the way up until that final week of three, plus there’s an additional event being hosted that week at the neighbouring Fire Course in Dubai so players can take their pick of events as they attempt to get into the final field for the season’s climax.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout is the only player in this week’s field who’s travelled back from Augusta, and he rates as the joint favourite with most bookies alongside Adri Arnaus at 16/1. Brandon Stone, Matthew Jordan, Adrian Otaegui, Joost Luiten, Gavin Green and Marcus Armitage all rate in the 18/1 to 25/1 region in a field that’s fairly weak if we’re being honest, and typical of these co-sanctioned affairs.

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Course Overview. The Firethorn Course at Randpark Golf Club hosts this week’s event and will be familiar to followers of the European Tour as it’s been used for 3 of the 4 rounds at each of the past 2 South African Opens, plus this event itself when it was last played in 2017. Bushwillow was the course that hosted the other round in those mammoth fields of the South African Opens and the last Joburg Open, however for this week we’re focussing on the longer Firethorn only.

Tree-lined although not uncomfortably tight fairways and water hazards greet the players for this parkland setup, however given winning scores of 23-, 18- and 21-under from the past 3 events held here, it’s clearly scoreable when conditions allow

Firethorn stretches to 7,506 yards for its par of 71 with the 2nd hole converted to a long par 4 this year, however Johannesburg is at altitude though so, as ever for events in this neck of the woods, the ball flies further through the air and will make the course play shorter than the card suggests.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Joburg Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event. Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Event Stats | Combined Course Stats

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. 2017 (Dec): Shubhankar Sharma, 66/1; 2017 (Feb): Darren Fichardt, 90/1; 2016: Haydn Porteous, 150/1; 2015: Andy Sullivan, 16/1; 2014: George Coetzee, 11/1; 2013: Richard Sterne, 18/1; 2012: Branden Grace, 35/1; 2011: Charl Schwartzel, 4/1; 2010: Charl Schwartzel, 9/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Johannesburg is here. Sunshine and showers have been the order of the day for the lead-up to this year’s renewal and more of the same is expected throughout the 4 days of tournament play.

Winds are expected to be light at 5-12mph and temperatures will reach the high-70s Fahrenheit, so in between the potential stoppages for lightning the course should prove to be scoreable.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Stats from the last 2 years’ South African Open and the previous 2017 Joburg Open held here give us a little insight into the type of player who might succeed at Randpark:

  • 2020, Branden Grace (-21). 298 yards (47th), 57.1% fairways (8th), 69.4% greens in regulation (29th), 81.8% scrambling (2nd), 1.64 putts per GIR (4th)
  • 2018, Louis Oosthuizen (-18). 348 yards (12th), 35.7% fairways (54th), 64.8% greens in regulation (36th), 73.7% scrambling (4th), 1.63 putts per GIR (2nd)
  • 2017, Shubhankar Sharma (-23). 305 yards (39th), 64.3% fairways (12th), 72.2% greens in regulation (31st), 80% scrambling (1st), 1.60 putts per GIR (3rd)

The stats from the 3 most recent winners on this track tell a similar story. Branden Grace secured a 3-stroke victory over compatriot Louis Oosthuizen as a result of his performance on and around the greens. Similarly the year before, 6-shot winner Louis Oosthuizen also triumphed courtesy of his short game and putting as opposed to his normally dependable long game. 2nd place finisher Romain Langasque hit a little over 1/3 of fairways and again had to rely on getting up and down to help compile his overall total.

In that event, no player in the top 6 hit more than 50% of fairways and none of them managed 70% of GIR, which put the emphasis very much on short game performance.

Whilst not quite as pronounced as the South African Open, the Joburg Open held here at the end of 2017 did produce a similar story with the top 6 finishers ranking 1st, 4th, 5th, 2nd and 6th for scrambling on the week.

Incoming Form: The incoming form of the three winners here at Randpark for both the South African Open and the 2017 Joburg Open paints a fairly consistent picture, with a top-10 finish in one of their last two starts for each of the eventual winners:

  • Branden Grace: MC/51/48/30/MC/60/MC/MC/46/MC/39/3
  • Louis Oosthuizen: 5/13/16/28/24/28/31/58/32/5/29/3
  • Shubhankar Sharma: 66/MC/26/24/MC/MC/MC/21/24/18/10/27

And further back as the Joburg Open at its previous venues the story is similar, with only Darren Fichardt and Haydn Porteous harder to find in terms of current form:

  • Darren Fichardt: MC/16/MC/MC/31/MC/26/MC/66/32/48/53
  • Haydn Porteous: 5/MC/5/MC/6/28/35/15/17/36/MC/MC
  • Andy Sullivan: 17/51/47/67/4/21/MC/1/57/19/4/47
  • George Coetzee: 56/71/MC/57/74/12/32/20/MC/MC/4/5
  • Richard Sterne: 39/41/8/46/MC/MC/50/20/51/91/7/2
  • Branden Grace: MC/13/33/MC/MC/MC/18/MC/30/MC/9/14
  • Charl Schwartzel: 58/18/5/57/9/16/MC/MC/21/2/4/4
  • Charl Schwartzel: 6/48/MC/23/6/40/5/11/53/2/26/1

Event Form: Firstly a quick look at the course form here at Randpark of the 3 winners around these parts:

  • Branden Grace: 7
  • Louis Oosthuizen: Debut
  • Shubhankar Sharma: Debut

The same 3 players plus the other tournament winners of the Joburg Open in terms of event form are as follows:

  • Branden Grace: 63/MC/51/13/1/MC
  • Louis Oosthuizen: 19/32/10/12
  • Shubhankar Sharma: Debut
  • Darren Fichardt: 47/52/30/MC/46/25/MC/18/53
  • Haydn Porteous: 24
  • Andy Sullivan: MC/60/5
  • George Coetzee: MC/MC/7/14/3
  • Richard Sterne: 17/1/12/44/60/MC
  • Branden Grace: 63/MC/51/13
  • Charl Schwartzel: 19/14/4/1
  • Charl Schwartzel: 19/14/4

The 3 recent events held here at Randpark have followed a similar pattern each time with a player’s performance on and around the greens trumping long game excellence. Accuracy and GIR stats are generally quite low here from what we’ve seen thus far, however scoring is still low and birdies still very much the order of the day.

The altitude here takes the sting out of the card in terms of distance and I suspect that with some wet weather forecast, maximising chances on the greens through strong approach play will be a little more of premium here this time around, however ultimately a warm putter will be needed to get to the winning total.

My selections are as follows:

MJ Daffue 2pts EW 40/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

There are plenty of less familiar names in this week’s field with Sunshine Tour players outnumbering their European Tour counterparts, however one that immediately caught my eye was sponsor’s invite MJ Daffue.

At 663rd in the world and a single professional top-10 finish to his name since 2015, you could be excused for skipping this selection and heading on down the list, but hear me out. The South African looked to have a bright future, finishing in a tie for 4th on his professional debut at the Telkom PGA Pro-Am in 2013, however he lost his mother not long afterwards in a freak accident and simply lost his way in terms of progressing his career.

5 long years passed before he got his head straight enough to resume his career and with no playing status he’s been attempting to Monday Qualify for both Korn Ferry and PGA Tour events with some considerable success, making the field through the most brutal of processes on 9 of his last 14 attempts. Of course, birdies and eagles are the order of the day in that situation and that ability should translate nicely to this week’s task on home soil.

2 of those PGA Tour efforts since lockdown warrant additional scrutiny. 22nd at the Workday Charity Open saw the 31 year-old shoot a 3rd round 65 to put himself in 8th place heading in the final day and close enough to the lead be described as in contention; 12th at the Sanderson Farms Championship on his penultimate start contained opening rounds of 65/69 to put him in 4th place heading into the weekend before drifting away. Clearly both efforts are at a far loftier level than this.

The Pretoria man married a Texan back in 2012 and the couple welcomed a baby boy to the family in August so perhaps we’ll see a renewed level of focus as he finds a Tour to play on, however that could be taken care of in one fell swoop with victory this week which would sew up a European Tour card for starters.

He has a little previous form in this event, with his second professional start coming at the 2013 Joburg Open where an opening round of 66 had him sitting in 4th place before drifting away. Recent Stateside efforts would suggest that he’s quite capable of sticking around for far longer in tournaments nowadays and his 16th place finish at the Pinnacle Bank Championship last year on the Korn Ferry Tour also interests as he led the field for putting on the Bentgrass Greens that week in Nebraska. RESULT: MC

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Shubhankar Sharma 2pts EW 33/1 (7Ew, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Given the fairly obvious case for Shubhankar Sharma to go well here seeing as he won around these parts on his last visit in 2017, I was pleasantly surprised to see him on the second tier of prices this week when the odds were published.

The Indian’s 23-under total was his breakthrough win on the European Tour as a 21 year-old at the time, and he promptly followed that up 2 months later with another impressive victory, this time at the Maybank Championship where he beat Jorge Campillo by 2 strokes. That success here is clearly the most relevant though, with 3 of the 4 rounds played on the Firethorn track which hosts this week’s festivities. Naysayers will no doubt point to the fact that his standout round that week, a Friday 61, was achieved on the neighbouring Bushwillow Course, however the event still needed winning here on Firethorn, which he did with aplomb,

After a few false starts when lockdown eased, the now 24 year-old started to find some form at the Portugal Masters where he produced his best putting performance of the year on the bentgrass greens, eventually ranking 5th with the flat stick on his way to a mid-division finish. 5 consecutive cuts made followed, culminating in a tie for 14th at the Cyprus Open where his ironplay was as good as it’s been all season.

A missed cut followed at the Cyprus Showdown after the 3rd round in that brutal format, however rounds of 67/66/69 were hardly disastrous and he should arrive here this week in good spirits and good form ahead of his belated Joburg Open defence that’s been 3 years in the making. RESULT: MC

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Scott Hend 1pt EW 150/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

I noted on our Scottish Open podcast a few weeks ago that Scott Hend was a player to keep an eye on after an impressive putting display at Renaissance Club, culminating in a solid 11th place finish, and so it proved a couple of weeks later when he produced a personal best at Wentworth in decent company for a tie for 10th place.

Uncharacteristically perhaps, it was the 47 year-old’s long game that catapulted him to that lofty finish in a far stronger field than this, ranking 3rd for both Total Driving and Ball Striking, as well as 2nd for SG off the Tee and 4th for SG Tee to Green. Add to that a 5th place ranking for scrambling and we have an impressive performance to add to the notebook.

Scott missed the cut at Fairmont St Andrews the following week after that effort, however his recent burst of form has pushed him to 96th in the Race to Dubai and in with a chance of making the final cut for the Earth Course next month if he can keep the momentum going over the next 3 weeks.

For a player who possesses so much power off the tee, it’s tended to be shorter tracks where he’s excelled and whilst this layout isn’t short on paper, the altitude here brings this down closer to 7,000 yards than the quoted 7,500 and that’s right in his wheelhouse. Twice a play-off loser at Crans-sur-Sierre over the past few years, Hend has also proven that he can make the mental adjustments required in thinner air.

3 European Tour wins over the years and a further 8 Asian Tour successes signals the Australian as a player who’s capable of converting an opportunity when it arises and perhaps there’ll be some compatriot-driven inspiration this week having watched his countryman Cameron Smith play so well last week at Augusta. RESULT: MC

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Malcolm Mitchell 0.5pt EW 400/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Ladbrokes

Finally I’m taking a chance on one of the less familiar South African players, Malcolm Mitchell, who may just see this rare European Tour start as an opportunity to fast-forward his career.

It’s often easy to disregard lower-level results as background noise when assessing a player’s chance when stepping up a level, however there are plenty of examples of professionals quickly adjusting from lower tier golf when the opportunity arises. Matt Wallace is a great example of a player who made serious waves at Alps Tour level and now resides firmly inside the World’s top 50 and proof that winning form at any level needs to be considered a positive, particularly at lower level events like this.

Mitchell’s formative golf as a professional came on the Big Easy Tour last season, however 2 wins and a further 12 top-20 finishes from just 18 starts tells you that he’s a level above that. A step up to the Sunshine Tour has seen him finish inside the top 20 on 4 of his 8 starts, all since lockdown eased, and a best finish of 5th at the Vodacom Championship Reloaded last month has helped give him just about enough of a status to get a start here this week.

65 to open on his last start a week ago saw the 24 year-old sit in 2nd place after 18 holes and although he drifted to 13th overall, he’s clearly playing some nice golf and scoring well. Very limited historical stats suggest a strong tee-to-green game, which rarely hurts in professional golf, and rounds of 62 and 63 under his belt in his limited starts since turning professional suggests that he can make his fair share of birdies when the situation demands it.

A speculative punt, granted, however one I’m happy to take given the price on offer. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:35GMT 16.11.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.