The European Tour returns to South Africa for the first event of a three-week winter swing and our man fancies a Japanese star to contend once more...
"Scrambling is the key stat. The best three scramblers were placed in January, three of the best four placed in 2018 and at the last renewal of this event in 2017, the first five home all ranked inside the top-six for Scrambling."
Ariel Canete won the first edition of the Joburg Open in 2007 and Shubhankar Sharma won the last edition in December 2017.
That final renewal was the fourth event of the 2018 European Tour schedule and it was the first edition of the tournament staged at this week's venue - Randpark. Although on that occasion, they used both the Firethorn Course and the Bushwillow, only Firethorn will be used for this year's renewal.
The Joburg Open makes a very welcome return to the schedule and it kicks off a three-week run of events co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour in South Africa. We're back to Leopard Creek next week for the Alfred Dunhill Championship before moving on to the Gary Player Country Club for the South African Open in the first week of December.
Firethorn course, Randpark Golf Club, Johannesburg.
Firethorn - Par 71 7,506 yards
Stroke Average at the SA Open in January - 70.69
In addition to the final edition of this event three years ago, Firethorn has been the host course for the last two editions of the South African Open, won by Branden Grace in January and Louis Oosthuizen in December 2018.
When still called Randpark, it also hosted the 1995 and 2000 South Africa Opens, won by Retief Goosen (-13) and Mathias Gronburg (-14) respectively. It also staged the SAA Pro-Am Invitational on the Sunshine Tour in 2009 and 2010, when on both occasions the winning total was eight-under-par through 54 holes. The winners were Ryan Tipping and Tyrone Ferreira. And finally, Otto Van Buynder won the Big Easy Challenge on the Big Easy Tour here two years ago.
The course underwent extensive changes prior to this event in 2017 but it didn't appear to make the venue any tougher - Shubhankar Sharma won with a total of 23-under-par.
Although Firethorn appears long on the card, it's worth remembering that we're at altitude so the ball travels much further.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 7:00 on Thursday
Last Three Course Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - Branden Grace -21 25.024/1
2018 - Louis Oosthuizen -18 9.08/1
2017 - Shubhankar Sharma -23 150.0149/1
What Will it Take to Win the Joburg Open?
To provide a statistical snapshot, here are the stats for the top-five and ties at the last two South African Opens and the 2017 edition of this event here.
2020 South African Open at Randpark
Branden Grace -21 DD - 47 DA - 8 GIR - 36 SC - 2 PA - 4
Louis Oosthuizen -18 No Stats Produced
Marcus Armitage -16 DD - 7 DA - 21 GIR - 47 SC - 3 PA - 8
Jaco Ahlers -15 DD - 44 DA - 12 GIR - 14 SC - 25 PA - 10
Jack Senior -15 DD - 39 DA - 3 GIR - 22 SC - 1 PA - 29
2018 South African Open at Randpark
Louis Oosthuizen -18 DD - 12 DA - 54 GIR - 36 SC - 4 PA - 2
Romain Langasque -12 DD - 42 DA - 57 GIR - 19 SC - 3 PA - 27
Thomas Aiken -10 DD - 51 DA - 26 GIR - 47 SC - 18 PA - 23
Bryce Easton -10 DD - 31 DA - 26 GIR - 14 SC - 36 PA - 13
Charl Schwartzel -10 DD - 17 DA - 63 GIR - 22 SC - 1 PA - 39
Oliver Wilson -10 DD - 56 DA - 46 GIR - 22 SC - 13 PA - 28
2017 Joburg open at Randpark
Shubankar Sharma -23 DD - 39 DA - 12 GIR - 31 SC - 1 PA - 3
Erik Van Rooyen -20 DD - 21 DA - 23 GIR - 1 SC - 4 PA - 47
Shaun Norris -17 DD - 32 DA - 33 GIR - 55 SC - 5 PA - 1
Tapio Pulkkanen -17 DD - 1 DA - 54 GIR - 41 SC - 2 PA - 23
Marcus Armitage -15 DD - 12 DA - 64 GIR - 31 SC - 6 PA - 39
DD - Driving Distance
DA - Driving Accuracy
GIR - Greens In Regulation
SC - Scrambling
PA - Putting Accuracy
What you do off the tee here doesn't appear to be crucial and all three winners only ranked in the 30s for Greens In Regulation.
None of the three winners have ranked any worse than fourth for Putting Average but even so, Scrambling is the key stat. The best three scramblers were placed in January, three of the best four placed in 2018 and at the last renewal of this event in 2017, the first five home all ranked inside the top-six for Scrambling.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - Branden Grace -T4 trailed by three 12.5
2018 - Louis Oosthuizen - led by three 1.68/13
2017 - Shubhankar Sharma -led by five 1.42/5
Oosthuizen and Sharma both converted big leads here but it's possible to come from off the pace. Chris Swanepoel lost the SAA Pro-Am in a playoff having trailed by seven with a round to go and Mathias Gronberg won the 2000 South African Open having trailed by five through three rounds.
This is low grade stuff and I'll be looking to take anyone on that trades short with plenty of golf still to play. It's also worth bearing in mind how tough the finish is here if you're planning to trade in-running. The final three holes in January ranked first, second and sixth hardest on the course on the final day and they averaged a combined 0.97 over-par in round four.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout is one of my favourite players and I don't think he's reached his potential yet but he looks too short here given he played all four rounds at Augusta, he's missed his last two cuts here and tied 20th at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational is his best finish since the restart in June.
Brandon Stone was seventh in the 2018 South African open here but he missed the cut in January and that mirrors his recent form to a degree. Since August, he's finished no worse than 27th whenever he's made the weekend but he's missed four of nine cuts. He's a frustrating player to back and I'm happy not to here.
Garrick Higgo's form is typically in-and-out for a promising young player and it's hard to know what to expect. The 21-year-old is a phenomenal prospect and he's already won twice on the Sunshine Tour and once on the European Tour but he's also missed two of his last five cuts. His price of 24.023/1 is very hard to assess. It looks short enough but we could be looking back in a few years wondering how he went off at such a big price in such a weak field. He really good be that good a player.
I've had a small bet on Daniel van Tonder, who's in the form of his life - winning four of his last six starts on the Sunshine Tour - and I've also thrown a few pounds at the in-form Japanese player, Masahiro Kawamura, and the Italian Open winner, Ross McGowan, who's also a winner on the Sunshine Tour.
Kawamura traded at odds-on last time out at the Cyprus Showdown, where he did nothing wrong in-contention, and that fine effort wasn't a one-off. When he hit form in September, he finished eighth in the Andalucía Masters, fifth in the Portugal Masters and 14th in the Irish Open, after a really slow start. He's missed the cut here in all three of his previous visits but he wasn't playing anywhere near as well as he is now.
It's asking a lot for lightening to strike twice but McGowan pressed Lee Westwood hard at the inaugural DP World Championship shortly after his first win - at the Madrid Masters in 2009 - so there's a chance last month's win can inspire him again.
I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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