The European Tour returns after a month off and we're back to South Africa for the BMW SA Open so read Steve's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"All four winners at this venue have been tough to find. Andy Sullivan was the shortest priced of the four but he was still matched at [40.0] before the off."
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 a very prestigious event with lots of star names but those days appear to be over. There are no big European names in the line-up this week, with many them playing in the Eurasia Cup in Malaysia, but classy South Africans, Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel and Dylan Frittelli are all in attendance and the last four BMW SA Open winners are all playing too so it's not the weakest renewal I've seen.
Glendower Golf Club, Ekurhuleni, South Africa
Par 72, 7,564 yards
Stroke Index in 2016 - 71.78
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 that usually run 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. Although its yardage is more than 7,500 yards, Glendower doesn't play anywhere that long because it's at altitude.
Former Ryder cup captain, Paul McGinley, had this to say about the venue. "It's one of the best I've ever played, very visual, really well bunkered and extremely well set up. We don't get to play on many traditional courses anymore. I could see this as a real potential venue for a US Open if it was in America."
In addition to being used for this event in 1989, 1993 and 1997, Glendower has been the host course for the last four editions. 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), and it's been used several times on the Big Easy Tour, a development tour set up by Ernie Els.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 8:00 on Thursday (UK and Ireland time)
Last Five Winners
2017 - Graeme Storm -18 (playoff)
2016 - Branden Stone -14
2015 - Andy Sullivan -11 (playoff)
2014 - Morten Orum Madsen - 19
2012 - Henrik Stenson - 17
What Will it Take to Win the BMW SA Open?
To give us an idea of the sort of skillset required to win at Glendower, here are the key stats for the last four winners here.
2017 - Graeme Storm DD - 18 DA - 10 GIR - 22 SC - 4 PA - 3
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
Nothing really stands out over the last four years. The first three winners were all inside the top-ten for Driving Distance but I'm not sure I'd favour that over Driving Accuracy given the course is tree-lined and that five of the top-12 ranked inside the top-ten for DA last year.
Graeme Storm was the first winner to rank outside the top-ten for DD and for Greens In Regulation so accurate iron play is clearly a big plus and all four winners have ranked highly for putting but I'm not sure there's any sort of clear statistical angle in.
Conditions have varied over the last four years and as a result the winning scores have differed somewhat. We had rain in the run-up 12 months ago (and during) so the course was fairly soft but it played at its easiest in 2014 when Morten Orum Madsen managed to get it to 19-under-par. The rough was up in 2015 and only three players got it to double-digits under-par and rain had softened the course before the off two years ago too but with no more rain, 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 four latest editions.
Word is that the rough is a little more demanding this time around but with rain forecasted in the lead up the course should be nice and receptive for the early rounds at least.
Is There an Angle In?
This is a tournament that has changed quite significantly in recent years. It used to be a highly valued prize for the home contingent and between 2002 and 2011, ten of the 11 winners were experienced South Africans. Trevor Immelman, Tim Clark and Retief Goosen have all won the tournament twice recently and Ernie Els, who is now the tournament host and ambassador, has taken the title five times in total but four of the last five winners have been from overseas and the tournament doesn't have the gravitas it once did.
It's a far more open affair than it once was and finding the winner has been tough of late. The days of sifting through the half a dozen or so top South Africans to find the winner appear to have gone and it's not a tournament to invest in heavily before the off.
All four winners at this venue have been tough to find. Andy Sullivan was the shortest priced of the four but he was still matched at [40.0] before the off.
Storm eventually beat Rory McIlroy at the third extra hole last year, having led by three through 54 holes, and the 2016 winner, Brandon Stone, won the event having been two strokes clear after three rounds, but this is most certainly somewhere to oppose the leaders and anyone that hits odds-on.
When Graham DeLaet won the first of the six 54-hole BMG Classics held at Glendower, in 2009, 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 in 2016, no leader with a round to go went on to went on to win and some big leads were relinquished. Charl Schwartzel has led this event twice here without winning and on the second occasion, in 2015, he led by five with a round to go and was matched at [1.01] in-running.
In addition to Schwartzel, Hennie Otto, Jbe Kruger, George Coetzee, Branden Grace and Rory have all come close to taking the title in the last four years but they've all messed up at the business end of the event.
Rory led by a stroke with two to play 12 months ago and he was matched at just [1.19] before he bogeyed the penultimate hole and in the 2016 edition, Grace traded at odds-on as early as Friday! Daniel Brooks also went on odds-on that year, hitting a low of [1.81] when it looked like Stone had blown it during round four, so trading the short-priced players and laying the odds-on shots could prove a profitable strategy.
Branden Grace is just shading Charl Schwartzel for favouritism after the early exchanges in the market and I can't really argue a case for it being the other way around.
Grace's stats were awful when he finished fourth here two years and he struggled with his game badly over the weekend- shooting 72 and 70 - to go from two adrift and third at halfway to five off the pace and fourth at the close of play but that isn't the way Grace usually plays in-the-mx. He's usually extremely reliable in-contention.
He has a very strong record in his homeland and he was a winner on home soil at the Nedbank Challenge as recently as November, Three of his seven European Tour wins have been in South Africa and although I'm not entirely convinced this course is perfect for him (form figures read 8-15-4), I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised to see him win.
Schwartzel's South African form is even better. Like Grace, his first European Tour title was secured on home soil and he's now racked up eight victories in South Africa on the European Tour. That's a healthy percentage of his 11 wins to date but it must be considered that four of the eight wins were all at Leopard Creek and that this event has always eluded him.
Punters will have to weigh up whether his poor recent form and his frustrating tournament form, which reads 15-3-32-2-12-10-16-31-26-4-5-4-2, can be overlooked, given this venue clearly suits him. I can see him playing well again here (fourth and second on his only two appearances and odds-on twice) but can he get across the line? His national title clearly means an awful lot to Charl but I wasn't surprised to see him skip it 12 months ago. His crash in 2015 was bad enough but his collapse a year later was monumental, and I have my doubts whether he'll ever claim the prize.
He could very easily make for an excellent trading vehicle throughout the week but anyone deciding to chance him for the win needs to be prepared to take some profit should he go odds-on.
Dylan Frittelli is the only other player trading below [20.0] and it will be interesting to see if he kicks on again this year. He got off the mark on the European Tour at the Lyoness Open in June and won again a month ago in Mauritius, but his Glendower form reads an inauspicious 12-MC-18-MC and that's enough to put me off.
Finding the winners here has been tough so I'm just playing three for tiny stakes. Three of the last four winners have been winning for the first time (Storm was winning his second title in ten years) and three of the four were Europeans so all three of mine are looking to win their first European Tour events and two are European.
The Finnish pair of Mikko Korhonen and Tapio Pulkkanen both contended in South Africa last time out at the Joburg Open and I thought they were both nicely priced at triple-figures. Korhonen was has a good bank of form in South Africa and he was seventh here 12 months ago on debut after opening up with a 72. Pulkkanen topped the Challenge Tour rankings last year so this is his first season on the European Tour but if his third place in the Joburg Open is anything to go by he's going to be a force to be reckoned with and my only other pick is Canadian outsider, Austin Connelly, who finished runner-up at the KLM Open last year, as well as 14th in the Open Championship.
I'll be back later with my Sony Open preview.
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