There is a curious sense of familiarity and also difference about this week on the European Tour. Yes, it’s the South African Open, but why does it also feel so like the Joburg Open? Easy answer, slightly sad reason: money troubles.
The Sunshine Tour has tried to put a nice gloss on the fact that the country’s national championship needed a hand-out from the City of Johannesburg (which is why the event is effectively the Joburg Open, even down to having a huge field split over two venues until the weekend). “The result is one truly world-class tournament,” gushed the tour’s commissioner.
However Thomas Aiken spoke for many more when he said: “It’s quite upsetting to see not only your national open, but a tournament with so much prestige, without a sponsor.” Hopefully the golf betting opportunities overshadows the economics this week – and hopefully it’s not a sign of things to come.
The Joburg Open was originally hosted by the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington GC but last year moved to Randpark GC and it remains there this year, albeit in this new guise. What matters for the first two rounds is that two courses continue to be utilised.
Firethorn is 7,595-yards and used all weekend, Bushwillow is the shorter track at 7,114-yards and players will complete 18 holes there pre-cut. Both yardages can be taken with a pinch of salt because Johannesburg is at altitude which means the ball flies further than normal.
Three South Africans with strong home records and one Englishman head the market. Let’s look and the arguments for and against all four of them.
Louis Oosthuizen has 13 finishes of T14th or better in his last 15 starts on the European Tour when on home soil. Seven of those were top five including four wins. However he is yet to win on a parkland, inland track in such events claiming his wins, instead, by the seaside.
Branden Grace has nine top fives in his last 20 European Tour starts in South Africa and also has four wins, but he’s not been inside the top five since May. Form struggles also haunt Charl Schwartzel (best finish of T40th in his last four starts), but he has 18 top fives in his last 30 European Tour appearances at home with seven wins.
Which brings us to the English raider Wallace who has swiftly proved that if he’s given a sniff of a win he won’t back down. He graduated from the 2016 Alps Tour with six wins from nine starts, jumped from the Challenge Tour with one win (co-sanctioned with the main tour) in just three 2017 appearances and now has four European Tour wins in a mere 54 events.
He was fifth in his last start in South Africa (last month’s Nedbank Challenge) and second last time out (the DP World Tour Championship). He’s very hungry, very confident and also very good at golf. Don’t overlook his T30th on these courses last year. He opened with a 73 to lie T173rd, but responded with 65-67 to easily make the cut and was T12th after 54 holes.
There’s something else to consider with Wallace. In seven of his last ten starts he has been within three shots of the lead at the end of a round. Every single one of those tournaments had a better field than this one. If he’s sniffing another win he’ll have little reason to be scared. He’s 12/1 with Unibet and although it’s shorter than he has been, he’s becoming that strong a performer.
Last year Darren Fichardt posted a horrible first round 75 to find himself T212th in the field and a second lap of 67 couldn’t get him into the weekend. But if we peer back in the record books that one round is his only genuine failure at this location. Back in 2000 he led going into the final round of this tournament before finishing second and he was also sixth in a 2010 Sunshine Tour event at Randpark.
He’s a five-time European Tour winner, including twice in South Africa, he won on the Sunshine Tour earlier this year and he was ninth in the Nedbank Golf Challenge last month. He’s a classic unfashionable player whose success tends to get overlooked. He has six top six finishes in his home Open and was also seventh in the event last year. There’s value with the 55/1 at Bet365.
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