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With three live runners in with a chance of an each-way place or better heading into Sunday in Qatar, it was a shame ultimately that only Pablo Larrazabal could get us a return with Chris Wood treading water and Sean Crocker succumbing to the pressure of the final Sunday group. Pablo is clearly playing some great golf and I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see him win this season and, despite his final round, I was nevertheless impressed with Crocker who didn't take to the greens well and still had a chance of capturing the title - I'm sure we'll see more chances arise for the young American if he can keep earning starts on the European Tour.
On to this week then and the third of four South African events in this 2018 season that began back in November takes us to the Pretoria Country Club in Waterkloof, Pretoria and just a few miles north of the two previous events already played in Johannesburg this year. The Pretoria CC hosted its first European Tour event in 2015, however the 107 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 Coetzee, who is still attached to the club to this day, put his local knowledge to good use 3 years ago as he held off Jacques Blaauw who'd blasted his way through the field with a final round 61. Compatriot Dean Burmester secured his first European Tour victory here 12 months ago, however the 28 year-old won't be here to defend his title this week given that this event clashes with the WGC in Mexico City that also takes place this week.
Talking of the WGC Mexico Championship, you can read my preview for that event here.
Pretoria CC. Designer: Grimsdel, 1910 with Player re-design 2004. Course Type: Classical, Parkland; Par: 71; Length: 7,081 yards; Water Hazards: 8; Fairways: Kikuyu; Rough: Kikuyu; Greens: Bentgrass, 10 on the stimpmeter.
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) for 10 of the last 12 rounds, players who got the measure of the layout scored heavily with Thomas Aiken and Oliver Fisher both shooting 62s last year, Adrian Otaegui threatening a second round 59 in 2016 and Jacques Blaauw finishing off with a blistering 61 in 2015. The front 9 tends to play easier than the back 9 with the par-5 9th offering plenty of birdie and eagle opportunities to those who can find the fairway from the tee. The 511 yard par-4 4th will likely be the hardest hole this week with the 514 yard 18th remaining as a par-5 for this year's event to hopefully provide an exciting finish on Sunday.
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 2015-2017 events were 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. 2017: Dean Burmester, 16/1; 2016: Charl Schwartzel, 6/1; 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 7 years based on the completed 2017 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Waterkloof region is here. A hot and sunny four days is in prospect with temperatures hitting 90 Fahrenheit in the afternoons, accompanied by a 10-15 mph breeze. The weekend looks calmer and should encourage lower scores.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Stats from the last two renewals gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
With the exception of Charl Schwartzel whose irons were on top form in 2016 and one of last year's runners up Jorge Campillo, most other players who finished in the top 5 over the three years that we've played here in Pretoria have struggled to hit much better than two-thirds of greens in regulation given the small greens. Birdies aren't that easy to come by on this Grimsdel design, so minimising bogeys whilst picking up the occasional birdie or eagle on the scoreable holes is the order of the day.
The course in theory suits a 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 is also a viable combination here. The issue with this assertion is that in George Coetzee and Dean Burmester we have two aggressive players who have triumphed over the past 3 seasons, suggesting that ultimately it comes down to how players perform on and around these greens that will make all the difference.
Incoming Form: Last year's winner Dean Burmester was in decent form heading into this event with 5 top-10 finishes in his previous 10 starts; similarly Charl Schwartzel boasted a similar form line with the addition of a victory at Leopard Creek on his penultimate start before the festive break. George Coetzee's 2015 form was a little more patchy, however with home advantage he still managed to triumph over a fast-finishing Jacques Blaauw:
Course Form. The course here in Pretoria has been used for some low-key Sunshine Tour events over the years and each of our previous 3 winners had shown some form either in one of those events or in previous renewals of the Tshwane Open held here:
Despite the fact that he won in 2015, I find this quote from George Coetzee quite revealing, "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." On paper this course should suit a short, accurate plodder but the results thus far in the Tshwane Open have suggested that's not the only way to contend here and, in fact, more aggressive types who have a strong week on and around the greens can certainly win around these parts.
My final Tshwane Open tips are as follows:
South Africans have won the three Tshwane Opens held here at Pretoria CC and siding with a team that's heavily weighted towards home players seems the most prudent course of action. 2015 winner George Coetzee heads the betting market at 12/1 and is clearly a classy player in this field, however he's been incredibly flaky under pressure of late and I can't entertain backing him at that price. A number of overseas players also rate as relatively short prices including Alexander Bjork who has decent enough course and current form, plus Julian Suri who's a good player at this level but has been off the boil for a few weeks now. The first player for me though who warrants backing is Jacques Blaauw who has two top-6 finishes around these parts in the past 3 years and has been showing enough form in patches of late to suggest he can contend here.
The 34 year-old is a 3-time winner on the Sunshine Tour but clearly fancies his chances at a higher level having tried his luck on the web.com Tour last year with limited success. 8th at the Lincoln Land Charity Championship and 5th at the Utah Championship were the highlights in what otherwise was a disappointing campaign and he's since returned to South Africa where both his long game and form have picked up considerably. 3 top-8 finishes in his last 8 starts including 4th at the co-sanctioned BMW SA Open have put Jacques just outside the top-10 in the Sunshine Tour Order Of Merit and this week presents another decent opportunity for him to make inroads into Erik Van Rooyen's lead at the top. 1st for Ball-Striking at the Mauritius Open and 2nd at the SA Open on the same count on his last two European Tour starts suggests that he's hitting the ball well and with his aforementioned course form he could be a serious contender here this week. RESULT: T13
Another of the home players with some positive form on this track is Trevor Fisher Jnr and whereas many of his compatriots have struggled when it comes to contending at the European Tour co-sanctioned level, Trevor has the 2015 Africa Open trophy tucked away safely in his cabinet alongside his 8 other Sunshine Tour titles. 2017 was a year blighted with injury, however after a lengthy lay-off after withdrawing from the Sun City Carnival Challenge in August, the 38 year-old has eased himself back into competitive golf with a tie for 15th place at the BMW SA Open and 27th at the Dimension Data Pro-Am a fortnight ago. Anywhere approaching his best and the Johannesburg native is more than a match for this field with 9 top-7 finishes accumulated over the years on the European Tour including his aforementioned win, many of which have come in South Africa in smaller co-sanctioned events such as this. 23rd here in 2015 and 29th last year doesn't tell the whole story as Trevor has also finished 6th here on the Sunshine Tour when he topped he putting averages on the week with an impressive 1.51 putts per GIR. RESULT: MC
Breaking ranks from the South Africans for a moment, Glaswegian Scott Jamieson is also worthy of an investment this week. The 34 year-old's solitary win on the European Tour came at the now defunct Nelson Mandela Championship back at the end of 2012 in an event played over just 36 holes due to the weather, however much of his best efforts have come here in South Africa. Aside from that victory, 6th at the 2011 Joburg Open, 3rd at the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Championship, 2nd at the 2013 Volvo Golf Champions, 4th at the 2016 Alfred Dunhill Championship and most recently 2nd at the Nedbank in November rubber-stamp his credentials in this part of the world. Last week's 61st place finish in Qatar may have thrown the bookies off the scent a little, however 17th before that in Malaysia where he hit over 80% of greens in regulation is encouraging and in his two attempts here in Pretoria, which have ended in finishes of 35th (2015) and 22nd (2017), he's ranked 2nd for both Putting Average and GIR respectively. Jamieson can contend here this week if he can put it all together once again on South African soil. RESULT: 7th
A couple of outsiders to finish. First up Zander Lombard who came so close to winning his maiden European Tour title last year when losing out in a play-off to Alvaro Quiros at the Rocco Forte Open. Clearly the 23 year-old is a player with the potential to contend for titles at this kind of level, however consistency isn't his strength which is clear from a form line that contains more missed cuts than paid weekends. That said, he would have twice rewarded each-way backers on his European Tour starts in 2017 and he made the Sunday Match Play at Perth earlier in the month to suggest that his game's not a million miles away. A missed cut last week in Qatar hides a second round of 65 which equalled the lowest round of the week and a return to Pretoria CC where he's finished 7th and 22nd on his last two starts - both fuelled by Saturday rounds of 63 and 65 respectively which had given him a chance of an each-way place or better - could be positive for the Pretoria native. RESULT: MC
Finally I'll finish with a speculative punt on Louis de Jager who's another local player who might just use his short game skills to get into the mix here this week. The 30 year-old's best finish on the European Tour came in this event at Copperleaf G&CC when he finished 3 shots shy of Dawie Van Der Walt's total in 3rd place back in 2013. Since that point in time he's added a further 2 Sunshine Tour victories to his 2009 Suncoast Classic title without overly troubling the scorers on the European Tour until finishing 11th at last year's Joburg Open and 4th in Mauritius in December, where his short game was once again on point. With 8 starts at Pretoria CC over the years and 3 top-20 finishes accumulated in that time, de Jager knows the course as well as anyone here and with just 1 missed cut in his last 12 starts across all Tours he's playing some good, consistent golf at present, included in which was his best finish since 2014 when he finished 2nd to Jared Harvey in Zimbali back in September. RESULT: T29
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