Joburg Open: Past champ worth chancing in a tricky looking heat

Richard Sterne – Can he win a third Joburg Open?
Richard Sterne – Can he win a third Joburg Open?

Steve takes a detailed look at this week's European Tour action in South African where he hopes a couple of tournament specialists can find some inspiration. Read his in-depth preview here...

“Sterne won this event by fully seven strokes two years ago, when taking the title for a second time, and in what is a quite frankly a dismal event, I thought he was just about worth chancing for tiny stakes.”

Tournament History

The Joburg Open has only been in existence since 2007.  It's always been co-sanctioned between the Sunshine Tour of South Africa and the European Tour and it's always been staged over two courses with a bumper field of over 200 competitors.  


Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, Johannesburg, South Africa

Course Details

West Course Par 71, 7,203 yards
Stroke index in 2014 - 69.84
East Course Par 72, 7,658 yards
Stroke index in 2014 - 71.56

The unusually big field will play both the East and West Courses over the first two days with the weekend being played out entirely on the tougher East Course. The West Course is the shorter of the two and it used to play at least a couple of shots easier but that hasn't been the case the last few years. There was differential of 1.72 strokes between the two last year but less than a stroke in 2013.

The Kikuyu fairways will reportedly be around 20 yards wide with the Kikuyu and mixed wild grass rough set 2cms higher on the East Course. The bentgrass greens are forecast to run at around 10 on the stimpmeter. 

The Royal Johannesburg and Kensington is at altitude so although they look fairly long courses on paper, the ball travels around 10% further than it does at sea level.

Useful Sites
Event Site
Course Details
Tee Times
Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday

Last Five Winners

2014 - George Coetzee -19
2013 - Richard Sterne -27
2012 - Branden Grace -17
2011 - Charl Schwartzel -19
2010 - Charl Schwartzel -23

What will it take to win the Joburg Open?

For some reason, complete stats are only available for the last three editions but there's enough there to go on...

Most of the winners here have been big-hitters but driving accuracy appears relatively unimportant with George Coetzee ranking 30th last year when he won and 2012 winner, Branden Grace, ranking only 53rd. None of the first eight last year ranked inside the top-ten for putting and of the four winners with a ranking, Richard Sterne, with a ranking of 6th in 2013, is the only one to have ranked inside the top-ten. Of the main stats, greens in regulation appears the most important.

Grace ranked second for GIR when he won in 2012 and six of the first eight home were inside the top-ten for greens hit. Sterne ranked first for GIR a year earlier and five of the first eight ranked inside the top-seven. Dawie Van Der Walt led the GIR stats last year but putted far too badly to contend and the winner, Coetzee, only ranked 13th for greens hit. Thomas Aiken (finished fifth and ranked third) was the only player in the first eight to rank inside the top-ten for GIR but none of those eight ranked any worse than 24th, with the average ranking for the eight being 15th. At least a decent week with the irons looks essential but the best stat to look at looks to be par 4 performance...

There are stats for how the players have fared on the par 3s, 4s and 5s going back over the last six years and they're certainly compelling. Anders Hansen ranked second on the par 4s when he won here in 2009 and the next five winners all ranked first. 

Is There an Angle In?

Given this is a low-scoring birdie-fest; it's perhaps not surprising that last five winners have all been bang in form. Coetzee finished fourth in Abu Dhabi and fifth in Qatar before finally breaking his duck here 12 months ago. Sterne had finished runner-up to Stephen Gallacher in Dubai the week before he won in 2013. Grace, who, like Coetzee, was winning on the European Tour for the first time, had finished an eye-catching 14th at the Africa Open the week before he won and Charl Schwartzel had been red-hot when he won this title in both 2010 and 2011.  He won back-to-back in 2010, having won the Africa Open the previous week and he finished fourth in the Africa Open in 2011 before doubling up here. 

Schwartzel was a warm favourite to win last year but he hadn't played anywhere for a month and it cost him. He was far too slow out of the blocks and could only finish tied for 59th. 

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Korea's Jin Jeong looked the most likely winner at one stage last year but he missed numerous putts on Sunday. He was visibly foxed by the tricky grainy greens and it emphasized the advantage the home-grown contingency have. 

A South African has won the last five renewals and six of the eight staged in total and sticking with the locals might make sense

Ariel Canete was the surprise winner of the inaugural event but every other winner has been well-fancied so concentrating on the head of the market might make sense.

Given class acts, Grace and Coetzee, both got off the mark here I wouldn't be averse to backing a South African maiden and last week's Dimension Data result on the Sunshine Tour could prove a better form guide than the last couple of results on the European Tour in Asia.

In-Play Tactics

In the early renewals, when the scoring differential was bigger, players could make up a lot of ground after an opening round on the tougher East Course, and Hansen even closed from eight back at halfway, but the last three winners have all been within three of the lead after round one and within one after round two.

Coetzee messed up in round three before bouncing back to win from four adrift on Sunday and that was the same margin that Sterne trailed by after 54 holes when he won here for the first time in 2008 but the other six winners were all within one with a round to go.

I wouldn't assume that anyone that starts slowly on the East Course will make up ground on the West and given it's such a low scoring tournament, I'd favour the early pacesetters quite heavily.

Market Leaders

In a very weak event, Alex Noren is a worthy favourite. Since returning to the fray after a lengthy injury break, the Swede has performed admirably. A 37th placed finish in Abu Dhabi was followed by a 9th in Qatar and a second in Dubai but he was perhaps a little disappointing at the True Thailand Classic where, having looked a likely winner, he finished only 11th. 

Noren was 13th here in his only previous appearance in the event in 2011 and he's arguably the man to beat but I can happily leave him out of my portfolio.

Defending champ, George Coetzee, looks one to leave alone also. His win here 12 months ago remains his sole success and the nervy in-contention performer isn't in the best of form. He missed the cut in Dubai when last seen on the European Tour and after an opening 66 at the Dimension Data Pro-Am on the Sunshine Tour last week, he shot rounds of 73, 77 and 70 to finish 16th. He also missed the cut at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the South African Open in the last two co-sanctioned events.

South African Open winner, Andy Sullivan, has maintained his form fairly well since that maiden victory and after a missed cut and a tied 60th he finished fifth in this event last year on his third attempt. He has to be respected but I wouldn't have him down as the sort to kick on and win multiple events and his performance in Malaysia last time out, when he finished with weekend rounds of 72 and 77 to fall to 47th was somewhat ragged. 


I'm disappointed that the in-form South African, Branden Grace, who won the Dimension Data on Sunday, has swerved the event because he'd have been worth backing even at a short price. This really is a poor tournament and I'm not especially keen on anyone.

I really want to stick to the South African contingent and I wouldn't have minded getting onboard the Justin Walters bandwagon - one firm even went 100/1 but he's a bit too short for me now so I'll take a tiny chance on two tournament specialists in two-time winner, Richard Sterne and two-time runner-up, Garth Mulroy and one big outsider in Merrick Bremner.

Plagued with back injuries, Sterne has had an interrupted career but he does know how to win if he gets the chance. By some distance, his best performance last year was his fourth place at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and from there he enjoyed a bit of success stateside. He finished second at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship on the Tour which helped him to finished ninth in the Finals Series, which has earned him a PGA Tour card for this year.

He's missed his first three cuts on the PGA Tour so he can hardly be described as in-form but he did at least break par on all three days at Pebble Beach last time out. He could improve considerably for being back on home soil and if he starts well he could prove tough to beat.

Sterne won this event by fully seven strokes two years ago, when taking the title for a second time and in what is a quite frankly a dismal event, I thought he was just about worth chancing for tiny stakes.

Mulroy has shown very little of late but something may have clicked if Sunday's 66 at the Dimension Data is anything to go on. If he does find form, the 66/1 will look big as like Sterne, he does at least know how to get the job done.

Big-hitting 28 year-old South African, Merrick Bremner has four Sunshine Tour wins, the last of which came in October. He was third in the Czech Masters on the European Tour last August and he finished 14th in the Dimension Data on Sunday. Given how weak this event is, that's just about enough positives to make the 170.0169/1 I've taken for tiny stakes value. 

Richard Sterne @ an average of 26.025/1 
Garth Mulroy @ 66/1 (Sportsbook)
Merrick Bremner @ 170.0169/1

I'll be back on Friday with my In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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