Paul Williams

Paul Williams' South African Open Tips 2020

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The second part of our European Tour double-header takes us to the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City for the South African Open. Usually the host course for the Nedbank Golf Challenge which was originally due to take this spot in the schedule, Player’s track will be a welcome addition to the course rotation used for one of golf’s oldest Open Championships.

With this event running in parallel to the Golf in Dubai Championship, the normally mammoth 240-man field has been roughly halved with a number of those who’ve played the Joburg Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship staying in South Africa for a final week. Dylan Frittelli, who performed so well for his 5th place finish at Augusta a fortnight ago, is the most notable addition over recent weeks in a field which contains a mix of European and Sunshine Tour players.

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Course Overview. The 7,834 yard Gary Player Country Club at Sun City is the venue this week – on paper the course looks a brute in terms of length, however it’s worth considering that the altitude will reduce that yardage as it often does in South Africa and officials can play around with tee positions between rounds, so don’t expect this to play purely into the hands of the bombers and nobody else. That said, length is certainly of assistance on the par-5s which provide the best scoring chances and those players with a level of controlled aggression will tend to enjoy this track more than most.

The fairways aren’t particularly wide for this style of long, South African course and the greens are slick bentgrass that will reap a score for players who can find putting surfaces in the right number, however veering off of the fairway can leave players in some very tricky spots with thick rough in places, plus trees and bushes there to punish the errant.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s South African Open that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event.

As noted above, this venue is new to the event so there’s an additional combined stats sheet with course from relating to recent European and Sunshine Tour events held here: 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. 2020: Branden Grace, 14/1; 2019: Louis Oostuizen, 13/2; 2018: Chris Paisley, 125/1; 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.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Sun City is here. A mixed bag weather-wise this week with relatively cool conditions – as low as 63 Fahrenheit on Friday and the possibility of rain each day at various times. Winds will be relatively light at 5-10mph.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats of the last 7 winners of the Nedbank Golf Challenge held here on this track gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:

  • 2019, Tommy Fleetwood (-12). 62.5% fairways (8th), 72.2% greens in regulation (8th), 50.0% scrambling (40th), 1.79 putts per GIR (32nd)
  • 2018, Lee Westwood (-15). 51.8% fairways (36th), 76.4% greens in regulation (4th), 52.9% scrambling (14th), 1.64 putts per GIR (1st)
  • 2017, Branden Grace (-11). 42.9% fairways (54th), 62.5% greens in regulation (31st), 59.3% scrambling (12th), 1.64 putts per GIR (4th)
  • 2016, Alex Noren (-14). 46.4% fairways (39th), 75% greens in regulation (1st), 55.6% scrambling (13th), 1.69 putts per GIR (4th)
  • 2015, Marc Leishman (-19). 50% fairways (12th), 76.4% greens in regulation (1st), 94.1% scrambling (1st), 1.73 putts per GIR (8th)
  • 2014, Danny Willett (-18). 4% fairways (23rd), 70.8% greens in regulation (3rd), 85.7% scrambling (1st), 1.69 putts per GIR (3rd)
  • 2013, Thomas Bjorn (-20). 64.3% fairways (3rd), 77.8% greens in regulation (1st), 81.3% scrambling (3rd), 1.66 putts per GIR (4th)

Since its move to the European Tour, the winning formula at the Gary Player Country Club has been to maximise greens hit coupled with a strong enough short game to minimise bogeys. Tommy Fleetwood’s chipping and putting was just about good enough here last year, however he hit sufficient greens over the 4 days to compile a winning score.

The card would suggest that bombers should thrive here, however with the likes of Thomas Bjorn as well as Trevor Immelman and Jim Furyk (twice) having lifted the Nedbank trophy over the years, I’d suggest an accurate type is equally if not more likely to win this event.

Incoming Form: In terms of the renewal at Randpark which opened the European Tour’s New Year schedule, eventual winner Branden Grace had finished 3rd his previous start at Leopard Creek before the festive break, although prior to that his form had been patchy at best.

The year before, also at Randpark, eventual winner Louis Oosthuizen had finished 5th on the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic and 29th at the CJ Cup, before producing a 3rd place finish at Sun City on his last start to suggest that his game was very close.

Prior to that on other venues, Chris Paisley’s incoming form was patchy but the other recent winners 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:

  • 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
  • Chris Paisley: MC/55/5/3/MC/12/MC/MC/58/MC/23/MC
  • Graeme Storm: 17/7/71/36/62/MC/MC/25/MC/22/4/MC
  • Brandon Stone: 7/35/2/9/6/12/MC/23/MC/6/1/18
  • Andy Sullivan: MC/52/11/MC/3/17/51/47/67/4/21/MC
  • Morten Orum Madsen: 28/58/38/24/MC/14/MC/MC/16/12/51/63

Event Form: Local favourites Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen had both come close to winning their home Open before their respective successes. Form for the other winners is variable, however both Graeme Storm and Andy Sullivan’s event form at least hinted at something better:

  • Branden Grace: 40/MC/6/21/21/9/65/15/4/2/7
  • Louis Oosthuizen: MC/14/32/12/18/5/3/65/15/3
  • Chris Paisley: 41/MC
  • Graeme Storm: MC/4/MC/39/MC/32
  • Brandon Stone: 39/MC/MC
  • Andy Sullivan: 47/12
  • Morten Orum Madsen: Debut

The conundrum this week centres around course form and event form, with plenty of course history from both the Nedbank Golf Challenge and other Sunshine Tour events needing to be weighted against the prize of a South African Open title, which for the locals at least is a pretty prestigious accolade.

The Gary Player track favours strong ball-strikers first and foremost, so players who can demonstrate good control from tee-to-green leap to the top of the shortlist.

My final selections are as follows:

Matthias Schwab 2pts EW 20/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

The top of the market looks a real minefield to me, particularly with the added pressure of lifting the South African Open title for the home contingent.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout has come close once in this event, but has missed the cut on his last 2 attempts and for a single-figure price there’s also the question as to how much will be left in the tank after a challenging 4 days at Leopard Creek, both physically and mentally.

Also at single figures is Dylan Frittelli who impressed massively when finishing 5th at Augusta earlier in November. That form is unmistakably better than anyone else here can claim at elite level, yet again there’s no better than 18th on his CV from 6 attempts a the SA Open title over the years.

Brandon Stone already has this trophy in his cabinet and could well have another good run at the title this week, whereas Wilco Nienaber and Jayden Schaper may well win one of these in the future, but whether there needs to be a little more water under the bridge first remains to be seen.

Instead I’ve backed one of the brightest maidens on the European Tour to break his duck here, Matthias Schwab. In my mind, the Austrian is a level above the vast majority of this field and when he eventually gets over the line, I’m sure he’ll push on to bigger and better things at a rate of knots.

An outstanding end to 2019 saw the 25 year-old rack up 5th place at the Czech Masters, 8th at Crans, 2nd at the Porsche European Open, 4th at the Italian Open, 4th at the WGC HSBC Champions and 2nd at the Turkish Airlines Open where he came closest yet to a win, eventually losing out to Tyrrell Hatton in the play-off.

A win around that point would have seen Schwab on the brink of a top-50 OWGR position, sadly for him though the events ran out aside from the DP World Tour Championship where he finished 20th.

As with all professional golfers, 2020 has been a disjointed affair, however 3rd at the PGA Tour’s Barracuda Championship deserves a mention as Old Greenwood Golf Course sits at almost 6,000 feet of elevation and the adjustments required for that level of altitude aren’t dissimilar to this week’s task. Matthias ranked 5th for Driving Accuracy and 3rd for GIR that week to show that the calculations were no issue whatsoever, and that should bode well ahead of his second look at the track here at Sun City, having finished 41st here in 2018 at the Nedbank.

13th last week at Leopard Creek was a good warm-up for this and the quality long game that he’s mentioned recently on Social Media was in evidence as he ranked 3rd for Driving Accuracy, 10th for GIR and 6th for Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. More of the same this week should set him in good stead and without the pressure that some of the locals may feel this week, despite the lack of spectators, I can see Schwab having a good stab at breaking his maiden here. RESULT: T14

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Neil Schietekat 1pt EW 100/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

One of those players in attendance with the most tangible course form is Neil Schietekat and given he flashed a bit of form at the Joburg Open the week before last, I’ll take a chance on him this week.

The Gary Player Country Club is regular host of Sunshine Tour events as well as the Nedbank Golf Challenge and although form from those events is understandably at a lower grade than this, those who’ve continually played well at the venue need to be given some respect in my view.

We’ve listed the most recent events from both Tours in our combined course stats page here, however there’s more distant form available from the Dimension Data Pro-Am and Nashau Golf Challenge where the course was used either exclusively or as the host course of a 2-course rotation.

13 attempts here over the years has produced 12 paid weekends, 4 top-10 finishes and a win at the Sun City Challenge in 2018, which counted as the 36 year-old’s second of three wins on the Sunshine Tour. More recently he finished 2nd here behind Daniel Van Tonder at the start of November in a modified stableford format event and clearly enjoys the track.

As a Johannesburg native, playing at altitude becomes the norm and by representing Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC – the host of the Joburg Open for a number of years – he’ll have had plenty of practice in the kind of conditions that we’ll be presented with this week.

11th at Randpark at the aforementioned Joburg Open the week before last was also encouraging, particularly as he closed with an impressive 67 which matched eventual winner JB Hansen, and this will surely feel like another home tie for Neil. 15th for Driving Accuracy and 3rd for GIR is perfect for this week’s task and with last week’s missed cut behind him, I’d expect a decent effort here this week. RESULT: T51

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Oliver Farr 1pt EW 140/1 (5EW, 1/4) bet365

One player with a quietly impressive record at lower levels of European golf is Oliver Farr and there are growing signs that the Welshman, who resides the other side of the border in Hereford, is becoming increasingly comfortable at European Tour level.

Wins on the Challenge Tour in 2014, 2017 and 2019 paved the way on each occasion to a season on the upper tier, however it’s only on this most recent attempt that the 32 year-old has really hinted that he might be ready to take the next step and become a European Tour winner.

3rd at the Hero Open in August saw Oliver contend throughout in impressive fashion, without being able to find a Sunday round low enough to secure victory, and 9th at the Scottish Championship also impressed in October as he opened with a sluggish 73 before improving throughout and closing with an excellent round of 65.

After drawing a blank in Cyprus, Farr improved again when arriving in South Africa, finishing 30th at the Joburg Open and 20th last week at Leopard Creek. On both occasions he was inside the top 10 at the halfway point and perhaps it will be third time lucky here at Sun City for the kind of weekend performance that would see him seriously contend.

In terms of his game fitting this week’s test, Farr’s last 3 visits to South Africa have seen him rank 7th, 6th and 11th for Driving Accuracy as well as 11th, 14th and 4th for GIR, which is an ideal combination for the Gary Play Country Club. The most distant of those, a tie for 28th at Randpark in January and his aforementioned 30th place finish a fortnight ago were both at altitude, and that’s a big part of the equation this week. Players who can control their long game with the adjustments required for the thinner air are at an advantage here and the more experience that he’s having in this part of the world, the better he’s getting. RESULT: MC

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Richard McEvoy 1pt EW 200/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Finally, at a juicy long price, I’m taking a chance on England’s Richard McEvoy whose driving performances over the past 2 weeks in South Africa have really caught the eye.

The past two European Tour winners here at the Gary Player Country Club are Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood and that in itself tells us that long game excellence can work very nicely here at the altitude of Sun City. 1st for Driving Accuracy at the Joburg Open and an identical performance last week at Leopard Creek tells us that the 41 year-old is hitting it as well as anyone from off the tee right now and with a middling week on the greens, further progression from the 42nd and 25th place finishes of the past fortnight is quite possible.

European Tour winners are fairly thin on the ground this week with the bulk of the field being made up from South African players or those who play predominantly on that Tour, however in McEvoy we have a player who’s successfully got over the line relatively recently – the 2018 Porsche European Open – coming exactly 1 week after securing his third career Challenge Tour title in France. Add another couple of PGA EuroPro Tour wins into the mix and suddenly it doesn’t feel too much of a stretch to see the Essex man triumph at long odds.

60th here at Sun City in his only attempt in 2018 hardly inspires, however that was the final event of his breakthrough season and it’s understandable if he was winding down for a well-deserved break by that point in the year. His driving was nowhere near what we’ve seen recently and his short game was very poor at the time, so recent form with the driver coupled with a 2nd place ranking for scrambling last week suggests a much better effort could be on the cards this time around. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:05GMT 30.11.20 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.