After a year of some sublime golf and moments that will live long in the sport’s archives, the 2017 season comes to an end this week with a tawdry team-based event on the PGA Tour and this: the Joburg Open that has been tri-sanctioned by the European, Sunshine and Asian Tours.
There is plenty at stake too: Order of Merit points for those on the Asian Tour, a final payday of the year and, crucially, three invites to the Open Championship next summer for those who finish high up the leaderboard who haven’t earned their place.
As you may have guessed from the tournament’s name, we’re in Johannesburg this week and it has been raining cats and dogs in the area for the past couple of days. As we’ll learn later in this preview, that suits a certain type of player over others.
This is one of those split-course events where half of the field – which is huge, by the way, at more than 200 players – play one track and the rest play the other, before switching on the Friday.
The first course is called Firethorn, and this will also host both rounds at the weekend. This is quite long at 7,595 yards, and with the rain softening and slowing down the fairways it could be very difficult for the shorter hitters to shoot low numbers compared to their longer-hitting rivals. That’s worth bearing in mind this week.
The second course is called Bushwillow, and at a touch over 7,100 yards this is at least a track that the plodders can enjoy. Mind you, that’s not to say it’s a doddle: the tree-lined fairways ensure that straight hitting is a must, and while this is said to be the easier of the two courses, it would be a surprise if many – if any – completely take it apart.
One final note worth mentioning prior to rushing in with our bets. The South Africans tend to love this event on home soil, with eight of the last eleven editions being won by Proteas. Indeed, anybody who is anybody in South African golf has a Joburg Open title to their name – that is, all apart from our favourite this week….
Louis Oosthuizen is a former Open Championship winner that has triumphed in Africa on numerous occasions, but he’s never managed to get over the line in the Joburg Open before.
But, he’s in decent form with another good year on the PGA Tour, mainly, and an eye-catching run-out at the Mauritius Open last week suggests he is ready to compete for honours again. Oosthuizen was tied for the lead with three holes to play, but an error of judgement on the sixteenth tee ultimately proved fatal. These things happen, though, and given the number of titles he has won worldwide we certainly have no qualms about his ability to get over the line.
But, and here’s the key thing, this 200-man tournament is going to take some winning, and with a rotational course system comes the fear that a draw bias could occur, e.g. some players enjoying an advantage when playing the easier course in better conditions. At 6/1, Oosthuizen is the most likely winner but unfortunately unbackable at the price.
There’s little interest in 9/1 shot Dylan Frittelli, either. He won the Mauritius Open last week – his second European Tour title of the campaign – and his long, straight hitting game is perfect for this set-up.
But achieving back-to-back wins on tour is statistically unlikely; very few can go dip their bread two weeks in a row. At a single figure price, Frittelli is one to avoid for that very reason.
The field has been whittled down for us by the stats, the conditions and the history books: our bets must be classy South Africans who can hit the ball a long way.
By that token there are three players who stand out: Haydn Porteous (25/1), Dean Burmester (28/1) and Oliver Bekker (100/1).
Porteous won this event in 2016, and has since added to his haul of titles by claiming the Czech Masters crown in the summer. He continues to show signs of good form here and there, and you sense that four good rounds in a row will get Porteous very close to the title. He is one of the longest hitters in the field, too.
— QuietOnTheTee (@QuietOnTheTee) January 17, 2016
Burmester is another South African that has prospered on home soil, claiming the Tshwane Open crown earlier in 2017. Another brutally long hitter, he finished fourth in the high quality DP World Tour Championship just three weeks ago.
And let’s not discount Bekker, who is a seven-time Sunshine Tour winner with three of those titles coming this year alone. He finished joint ninth at the Mauritius Open after opening with a pair of 67s, and he ranks eighth on tour for Driving Distance in the few 2018 season events so far.