BMW SA Open 2017: Rory could prove hard to beat but David Horsey is worth a look

Rory McIlroy – the red-hot favourite in South Africa
Rory McIlroy – the red-hot favourite in South Africa

The European Tour resumes in Ekurhuleni on Thursday for the BMW SA Open - read Steve's in-depth preview of 2017's first event here...

“With his prodigious length off the tee and his (usually) superb accurate iron play, if he’s fit and firing on all cylinders, Rory is going to be hard to beat in this grade and I’m not in the least bit surprised to see him priced-up on the High Street at less than 2/1 with some firms.”

Tournament History

After a break of more than a month, the 2017 European Tour resumes on Thursday with the South African Open, now known as the BMW SA Open.

Dating all the way back to 1893, the BMW SA Open is the second oldest National Open in the world, with only the Open Championship, which dates back to 1860, being older. It used to be one of the most prestigious but it's been in decline in recent years and South Africa's most recent major champions, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, as well as PGA Tour winner, Branden Grace, are all disappointingly absent this time around. Thankfully, given how poor the turnout is from the South African elite, world number two, Rory McIlroy, has kept his promise to tournament host and ambassador, Ernie Els, that he'd play this year and he's very much the star attraction.


Venue

Glendower Golf Club, Ekurhuleni, South Africa


Course Details

Par 72, 7,564 yards
Stroke Index in 2016 - 72.64

The Glendower Golf Club was designed by C.H Alison in 1937. It's a classic tree-lined parkland course with Kikuyu fairways and rough and gently undulating bent grass greens, running at around 12 on the stimpmeter. Glendower is well-bunkered, with a total of 64 - 27 on the front and 37 on the back - and water is in play on 11 holes.

In addition to being used for this event in 1989, 1993 and 1997, Glendower has been the host course for the last three editions and it also hosted the Sunshine Tour's 54-hole BMG Classic between 2009 and 2014, with the winners being Graham DeLaet (2009), Brandon Pieters (2010), James Kamte (2011), Teboho Sefatsa (2012), Ulrich Van De Berg (2013) and Merrick Bremner (2014).


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 8:00 on Thursday (UK and Ireland time)


Last Five Winners

2016 - Brandon Stone -14
2015 - Andy Sullivan -11 (playoff)
2014 - Morten Orum Madsen -19
2012 - Henrik Stenson -17
2011 - Hennie Otto -14


What Will it Take to Win the BMW SA Open?

To give us an idea of the sort of skill-set required to win at Glendower, here are the key stats for the last three winners here.

2016 - Brandon Stone DD - 8 DA - 33 GIR - 9 SC - 46 PA - 3
2015 - Andy Sullivan DD - 9 DA - 23 GIR - 9 SC - 15 PA - 1
2014 - Morten Orum Madsen DD - 9 DA - 32 GIR - 4 SC - 13 PA - 17

DD - Driving Distance
DA - Driving Accuracy
GIR - Greens In Regulation
SC - Scrambling
PA - Putting Accuracy

Conditions have varied over the last three years and as a result the winning scores have differed. The course played at its easiest in 2014 and Morten Orum Madsen managed to get it to 19-under-par but the rough was up in 2015 and only three players got it to double-digits under-par. Rain had softened the course before the off 12 months ago but the greens soon sped up as the week wore on, creating fast and tricky conditions, so we've seen Glendower with the rough down and the rough up and we've seen it soft and we've seen it fast but the winner's stats have been consistent in all three latest editions. All three have ranked inside the top-ten for Driving Distance and for Greens In Regulation so they look the main stats to consider.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

The BMW SA Open used to be a tournament where the home contingency shone and especially the well-known home grown players. Between 2002 and 2011, ten of the 11 winners were experienced South Africans but the last four editions have lacked quality, with many of the top South Africans swerving the event.

Between 2012 and 2015 (no event in 2013) all three editions were won by Europeans and even though Brandon Stone won for the home contingent last year, the last three editions have all been won by someone breaking their European Tour ducks and none of them were well-fancied. It looks like the days of weighing up which South African name would win the title have long gone.


In-Play Tactics

Brandon Stone successfully converted a two-stroke 54-hole lead in last year's renewal but not before a sizable wobble. After birdying two of the first four holes in round four, to stretch his lead to five, he bogeyed six holes in seven before recovering brilliantly to eventually win by two. Had he thrown away the title, he wouldn't have been the first and taking on the third round leaders, or anyone that trades at odds-on could well prove a great strategy again.

When Graham DeLaet won the first of the six 54-hole BMG Classics held at Glendower, he sat in a three-way tie for the lead with 18 holes to play but in the seven subsequent tournaments held here prior to Stone's success, no leader with a round to go went on to went on to win and some big leads were relinquished. Charl Schwartzel led this event twice here without winning and on the second occasion he led by five with a round to go and was matched at 1.011/100 in-running.

In addition to Schwartzel, Hennie Otto, Jbe Kruger, George Coetzee and Branden Grace have all come close to taking the title in the last three years but they've all choked at the business end of the event. Winning this is a huge deal for the South African contingency and one could argue that Stone's youth and inexperience was in fact an asset last year.

In last year's edition, Grace traded at odds-on as early as Friday and Daniel Brooks hit a low of 1.814/5 when it looked like Stone had blown it so anyone taking on anyone that went odds-on enjoyed a very profitable week.


Market Leaders

Having promised Ernie Els he would play here, Rory McIlroy is the surprise entrant and thank heavens he hasn't reneged on his promise because without him this would be a very weak affair.

Having had to look to alternatives after Nike ceased manufacturing equipment, Rory is putting new clubs into tournament play for the first time so that's a possible negative and his form in South Africa is nothing to write home about either. In three visits, he's missed two cuts and finished third but this will be the first time he's played here in over eight years so that can probably be ignored.

Rory was a bit disappointing last time out when he started slowly, didn't hit enough greens, and eventually went on to finish ninth at the DP World Tour Championship in November, at a venue he loves, but he was in great form before that and in each of the last three years he's finished inside the top-three in his first start of the year.

With his prodigious length off the tee and his (usually) superb accurate iron play, if he's fit and firing on all cylinders, Rory is going to be hard to beat in this grade and I'm not in the least bit surprised to see him priced-up on the High Street at less than 2/1 with some firms.

Defending champ, Brandon Stone, could be anything and he certainly looks like South Africa's next big thing. In addition to bravely winning here last year, he ended 2016 with victory at Leopard Creek in the Alfred Dunhill and if Monday's practice round is anything to go by, he's not going to give up his title without a fight. Having not played much golf over the Christmas break, he skipped round Glendower in 61!

Defending won't be easy no matter how well he plays though. Trevor Immelman won the tournament back-to-back in 2004 and 2005 but he was the first to do so since Gary Player in the 1970s. Defending any title is tough and defending this one looks especially so. Even five time winner and South African legend Ernie Els couldn't achieve the feat and he attempted to on numerous occasions when right in his pomp.

The 2015 winner, Andy Sullivan, is the third favourite but it's anyone's guess how well he'll play. He missed the cut here when defending last year and although he played quite well at the backend of 2016, his putting left a lot to be desired. I understand why he's as short as he is given he's a course winner in a weak field but he wouldn't be for me on his first start in nearly two months.


Selection

This is a tough event to kick off 2017 and I've struggled to find anyone I want to back with conviction. The 9/4 with the Sportsbook about Rory and/or the 16/1 offered up on Stone could look huge if either or both bring their A games to the party and I wouldn't put anyone off backing either but they're fractionally short for my liking.

My plan is to watch the first round and take it from there and to look to take anyone on that trades at odds-on - with the possible exception of McIlroy - as the event progresses.

The likes of Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Romain Langasque and Thomas Detry were all of interest and if they drift as the market matures I might yet get involved but for now I'm going to start of the event with just one selection - my each way pick, David Horsey.

Horsey, who finished 2016 nicely, has won four European Tour events already and he's been in Dubai practicing in preparation of the year's first event, Given how weak the field is, I thought he was reasonably priced.


Selection:
David Horsey @ 40/1 (Sportsbook)


I'll be back tomorrow with my Sony Open preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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