The European Tour returns from the Christmas break this week and it does so with one of the bigger events in South Africa as the focus of attention. A big year of golf with innovations galore, huge money up for grabs and the holy grail of the Ryder Cup commences with a decent looking field for the South Africa Open.
A number of good players have decided to begin their year in this tournament and while there is no Rory McIlroy included among those teeing it up like there was last year we should still be in for a competitive event.
2017 – Graeme Storm
2016 – Brandon Stone
2015 – Andy Sullivan
2014 – Morten Orum Madsen
2013 – Henrik Stenson
2012 – Hennie Otto
2011 – Ernie Els
2010 – Richie Ramsay
2009 – Richard Sterne
2008 – James Kingston
Glendower Golf Club hosts the tournament for the fifth time this year. The course is a par 72 which measures 7,594 yards on the yardage book but in truth it doesn’t play that long because of the compressed air in Gauteng.
It is a treelined course which is said to have dense rough so making sure you find the fairways is imperative. A look through the statistics of previous winners here and most of them stack up nicely on the putting stats while greens in regulation is never a bad thing to have on your side. Those who are comfortable on tight tracks should be favoured.
Many people call this South Africa’s major although the emergence of the Nedbank Challenge probably dampens that a little but it is certainly an event the South Africans want to win. Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace tee it up this week to give the event a strong feel.
Dylan Frittelli, Dean Burmester and George Coetzee also want to win their national open while former champions Andy Sullivan and Graeme Storm will be looking to win the title once again. Soren Kjeldsen, Chris Wood and Jamie Donaldson bring an elite level game to the proceedings.
Branden Grace is the 13/2 favourite to win the tournament this week. He arrives here having won the Nedbank so he will be looking for a pretty quick South African double. He has had a couple of solid runs around this track without ever really threatening the title but his form is good and he is a fair leading contender.
Charl Schwartzel represents his closest challenger and having finished second around here in the past it is a challenge that should not be overlooked. He is obviously a class act and it would be no surprise were he to go on and win the title but having not been in competitive action for a while his 15/2 price doesn’t appeal to me.
Dylan Frittelli had a breakthrough year in 2017 and the next thing for him to do would be to win a big event in his home country. He is 18/1 to win here but whether the golf course suits him or not remains to be seen. It may not suit 22/1 shot Dean Burmester either but as a South African he won’t lack for motivation.
George Coetzee is no stranger to winning on the European Tour although he hasn’t done it since 2015. He is 30/1 to win this tournament but he is another for whom the course may not be a perfect fit. He has missed the cut each time he has teed it up here so we can swerve him easily enough. It is 33/1 bar.
Soren Kjeldsen tees it up here for the first time and that in itself might be a sign but I like his chances anyway because this course should sit up nicely for him. He is as straight a driver as you’ll find and his putting is much improved over the years. I’m expecting a big year from the Dane anyway as he’ll be desperate to get on the Ryder Cup team skippered by his friend Thomas Bjorn. A decent week here will do that quest no harm and on a course that fits nicely I think he’ll get it.
Thomas Aiken is a rare breed. He is a South African who has a decent record in this tournament. I’m not surprised by that, especially in recent times because this golf course fits him perfectly. He has some really good form on treelined courses and courses where you need ultimate control of your golf ball are the events he comes to the fore in. Aiken has finished fifth here a couple of times and if the putts drop he should go close again.
Daniel Brooks has finished third here in the past and that is no surprise as he is a decent enough putter. This is a big year for him after a tricky 2017 and he would love to get going with a bang. If he can keep the ball in play off the tee then the rest of his game should be nicely suited to this track so he’s my first bet at a three figure price.
Hennie Otto is a former champion of this event albeit on a different golf course but it shows he has it in him to win his home open. Otto is one of the better putters in South Africa and he has decent enough form coming in here so I’m expecting a good show from the man who has been a runner up here in the past. He’s another who if he keeps it in play off the tee box he should go close.
Jacques Blaauw is my final bet this week. He is very much all or nothing with three top 10s and three missed cuts in his last six events but if this is the week that his game is in good order then we know he’ll get the ball to the hole and that could be a good thing. Everyone will be rusty this week so his confidence could well be a telling factor. At 250/1 I’ll pay to see how good a week he has.
Back S.Kjeldsen to win SA Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with 888sport (1/4 1-5)
Back T.Aiken to win SA Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Coral (1/5 1-7)
Back H.Otto to win SA Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 151.00 with Coral (1/5 1-7)
Back D.Brooks to win SA Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-6)
Back him here:
Back J.Blaauw to win SA Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 251.00 with Betfred (1/4 1-5)
Back him here: