European Tour: South African Open hosted by Ernie Els
- Course: Glendower Golf Club
- Par: 72
- Yards: approx. 7500* played at altitude so will play approx. 10% shorter
- Grass: Kikuya (fairways) Bentgrass (greens)
- Course Designer: Allison
- Field size: 156 (cut – top 65 and ties)
LAST FIVE YEARS: Glendower has been the host venue since 2013 only
- 2015: Brandon Stone: -14: Stone claimed his first European Tour victory beating fellow South African youngster Christiaan Bezuidenhout by two strokes, with Daniel Brooks a further stroke back. The top ten* (two players tied for 10th) had eight South Africans (Stone, Bezuidenhout, Branden Grace, Keith Horne, Retief Goosen, Justin Walters, Trevor Fisher Jnr. and Dean Burmester) out of the eleven players. Zimbabwean Mark Williams also finished in the top ten with American, Daniel Im and Englishman, Brooks completing the set.
- 2014: Andy Sullivan: -11: Andy Sullivan claimed his maiden European Tour win chasing down Charl Schwartzel – Sullivan started the day seven shots adrift of Schwartzel, before closing it out in a playoff. Sullivan became just the second SA Open winner in its 121-year history. Lee Slattery, was a shot back in third. Three South Africans made the top ten (Charl Schwartzel, Thomas Aiken, Jared Harvey), with four Englishmen (Sullivan, Slattery, Paul Maddy and Matthew Fitzpatrick) with Spaniard Pablo Martin, Italian Alessandro Tadini and Frenchman, Gary Stal rounding out the top ten.
- 2013: Morten Orum Madsen: -19: Madsen was also claiming his first European Tour win, finishing two shots clear of South Africans, Jbe Kruger and Hennie Otto. The top ten was dominated by South Africa, with Charl Schwartzel, Trevor Fisher Jnr, Warren Abery, Christiaan Basson, and Garth Mulroy. Also in the top ten were Italian Marco Crespi, Spaniard, Alejandro Canizares and Swede, Johan Carlsson
At first glance Glendower looks brutally long, the course, however, is at altitude and therefore, balls will fly about 10% further in the thinner atmosphere. It’s an inland parkland track with a classical setup. That means a solid all round game is required as no particular style will dominate. The greens are quick and should run around 12.0 on the stimpmeter. The fairways are tree-lined and there is water in play on several holes. As always, with South African events, expect to see a divergent range of wildlife.
There is little that links the three winners as far as playing style goes but the one key attribute seems to be putting per greens in regulation. From that, with a little reverse engineering, greens in regulation are key and IF the European Tour had stats for proximity, that would help immensely. So, keep the ball in play, hit greens in regulation, scramble well and make putts. Glendower is a test for your whole game.
Five times South African Open champion Ernie Els hosts the event this year. Els has pulled off quite the coup in getting Rory McIlroy to come and play, perhaps the major decision this week is whether to play or pass on Rory and his extortionate $13,500 salary. His odds to win (5/2), suggest that he is a must-have but this doesn’t strike me as a particularly good fit for Rory. McIlroy often struggles with keeping the ball on the planet and putting, it wouldn’t be too big of a shock if Rory posts an over par round over the four days and ends up back-dooring his way to a top ten.
With Stone and Sullivan also both sub 16/1 in the market on the back of their victories here the bookies are obviously expecting the two to buck the trend and have a top ten. When you look at all the recent Sunshine Tour (BMG Classic) and South African Open winners, they all have at least one missed cut to their name.
The top-ranked South Africans in the field this week (bar Stone) do not have stellar records at the venue, George Coetzee has missed the cut twice, Richard Sterne and Jaco van Zyl have a top twenty each so maybe the pick of the bunch are Thomas Aiken (5th in 2015), one of the premier ‘fairway finders’ in World golf and Dylan Fritelli (top 20 last year) who arrives after a strong campaign on the Challenge Tour last year (Europe’s Web.com Tour equivalent)
Other notable Challenge Tour graduates this week are Thomas Detry, Jordan L Smith, Alexander Bjork, Romain Langasque, Alexander Knappe and Bernd Ritthammer. These half dozen are worth tracking in low grade and co-sanctioned events as I expect at least one of them to record a win this season – with this course having a three for three record for maiden European Tour wins, this could be one of those weeks.
No-one bar Charl Schwartzel (who doesn’t play this week) has multiple top tens in the last three years. Glendower is used as a Sunshine Tour venue also and looking at that form, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Trevor Fisher Jnr. both stand out as course horses. BMG Classic (Sunshine Tour) winners since 2011 include Bezuidenhout, Merrick Bremner, Ulrich van den Berg, Tehobo Sefatsa, James Kamte, Brandon Pieters and Graham Delaet. Only Bezuidenhout and Bremner are in this weeks field.
Rory McIlroy: $13,500: This is a bold call, as no doubt he has the ability to win this by a dozen shots or more. I’m not keen on Rory when the course is tree-lined (although he has won at Wentworth) and also when putting is a key factor – although this week the greens may be slower than normal as the region has had a lot of rain in recent weeks and more is expected this week. He has changed equipment following the ‘demise’ of Nike and I think he will be using this event to see where his game is at, rather than going full-bore for the win. With his ownership likely to be 40%+ if he does bomb then you have a big jump on the field.
Richard Bland: $8,700: Bland had a career year last year at the edge of 42/43 but still could not get that elusive first win. He arrives this week with zero course form and hasn’t played a competitive round of golf in almost two months.
BLOCKS TO BUILD ON:
Thomas Aiken: $9,600: Aiken was fifth here two years ago and didn’t play last season. He spent a good portion of last season playing on the PGA Tour where he was one of the best players on tour for finding fairways and hitting greens. This is a downgrade in class, but he will be driven by the fact this is his National Open.
Andy Sullivan: $10,500: My first instinct was to fade ‘Smiler’ following his missed cut defence last year. When looking a little deeper the 2015 tournament (when Sullivan won) was played in similar conditions to those forecast for this week.
Trevor Fisher Jnr.: $7,400: Fisher has played at this venue eight times in the last eight years in either the SA Open or the BMG Classic and has six top 20’s to his name. Four of those were top tens including an eighth place last year.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout: $8,100: Over the last two years the young South African has the best course form. He won the 2015 BMG Classic and finished runner-up in the SA Open last year.
Dylan Frittelli: $7,700: I have Fritelli pegged as a player to follow in South African events this season. The Challenge Tour graduate has a decent record here including a top twenty last year.
Dawie van der Walt: $7,200: van der Walt could have teed it up this week in the Bahamas on the Web Tour but has chosen to come back to his homeland and play in his National Open. Van der Walt won twice on the Web Tour in 2015 but struggled badly on the PGA Tour last year. He should find things more to his liking this week and I think he’ll get a big confidence boost.
James Morrison: $7,600: Morrison is a steady Eddie and should keep your teams score ticking over. He should make the cut fairly easily and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t finish in the top twenty.
Haydn Porteus: $6,500: This is a ridiculously low price for a player who has a touch of class at his best. Previous winners, Madsen and Stone are both prodigious drivers of the ball and that is Porteus’ forte. If he can keep his ball in play and dominate the par fives, Porteus could well be pushing for the win come Sunday.
Neil Schietekat: $7,000: If you’re paying attention you’ll have noticed I like South Africans to do well this week. It’s a good strategy on the European Tour to have some ‘Nationals’ on your team. Schietekat has solid Sunshine Tour form at the course with three top tens and a couple of top twenties. A disappointing 51st here last year, he’s worth another shot having played well in November/December last year.
Scott Vincent: $6,700: Vincent hails from Zimbabwe, which is right next to South Africa. He therefore, will be accustomed to the conditions. He struggled in his first two European Tour events last year but I think the Challenge Tour graduate will show what he is capable of in South Africa.
Merrick Bremner: $6,100: Bremner has a great record on this track in Challenge Tour events, with a win, two further top fives and another three top twenties. He’s dirt cheap, so if you’re taking the McIlroy route he offsets the salary hit nicely and has a good potential upside.