The DP World Tour kicks off with the first of three events in South Africa - the Joburg Open - and our man fancies the rebranded European Tour to start with a winning favourite...
"Given the fine record of South Africans in their homeland on the European Tour, and his current form, I was more than happy to back Dean Burmester at 12.5."
Ariel Canete won the first edition of the Joburg Open in 2007 and it was an ever-present on the European Tour up until 2017, when there were two editions - one in February and one in December.
It was lost from the schedule for a couple of years after that and it wasn't included in the schedule last season but following J.B Hansen's success in 2020, when it was one of the final events of the 2020 Schedule, it's now the first event of the 2022 schedule.
The final renewal before the slight hiatus, in December 2017, 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. As was the case when JB Hansen won here a year ago, only Firethorn will be used for this renewal.
In addition to kicking off the DP World Tour, the Joburg Open also opens a three-week run of events in South Africa. We're back to the Gary Player Country Club for the South African Open next week before moving on Leopard Creek for the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
Firethorn course, Randpark Golf Club, Johannesburg.
Firethorn - Par 71 7,506 yards
Stroke Average in 2020 - 70.87
In addition to last year's renewal and the December 2017 edition of this event, Firethorn was also the host course for the South African Open in both 2018 and 2020 when Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace were victorious.
When still called Randpark, it also hosted the 1995 and 2000 South Africa Opens, won by Retief Goosen (-13) and Mathias Gronburg (-14) respectively and 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 three 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 10:00 on Thursday
Last Four Course Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020- JB Hansen -19 60.059/1
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, the 2017 edition of this event and last year's renewal here.
2020 Joburg Open at Randpark
JB Hansen -19 DD - 25 DA - 35 GIR - 7 SC - 17 PA - 5
Wilco Nienaber -17 DD - 2 DA - 47 GIR - 24 SC - 25 PA - 7
Shaun Norris -16 DD - 36 DA - 42 GIR - 47 SC - 4 PA - 1
Aaron Cockerill -13 DD - 52 DA - 35 GIR - 64 SC - 1 PA - 4
Brandon Stone -13 DD - 5 DA - 32 GIR - 2 SC - 57 PA - 36
Steve Surrey -13 DD - 50 DA - 4 GIR - 10 SC - 36 PA - 28
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 Hansen is the only one of the last four course winners not to rank in the 30s for Greens In Regulation.
The first three home last year, and Aaron Cockerill in tied fourth, ranked fifth, first, seventh and fourth for Putting Average and none of the four winners have ranked any worse than fifth for PA so it clearly all comes down to what you do on the greens here, although Scrambling has also been a key stat.
Nobody got up-and down more than Cockerill in last year's edition of this event and the best three scramblers were all placed in the South African Open here January last year. At the 2018 South African Open, three of the best four scramblers were placed in 2018 and at the 2017 renewal of this event here, the first five home all ranked inside the top-six for Scrambling.
Making hay on the three long holes is crucial. Louis Oosthuizen only played them in eight-under-par in 2018 but the other three winners played the par fives better than anyone else for the week and the first three home last year ranked first, second and third for Par 5 Scoring.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - JB Hansen - Solo second 3.185/40
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
The first and second in this event last year, Hansen and Wilco Nienaber, were separated by a solitary stroke but four clear of the rest with a round to go and 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 to kick the season off and I'll be looking to take anyone that trades short on with plenty of golf still to play. Nienaber was matched at a low of just 1.121/8 when he turned for home with a three-stroke lead in round four last year but after a string of pars, he dropped shots at 17 and 18 to lose by two strokes.
It's hard to get home here though as the finishing stretch is tough. The second hole was the hardest on the course last year and the par three eighth ranked as the third toughest but seven of the hardest nine holes are encountered after the turn. The par five 14th was the easiest on the course last year, averaging only 4.36, and the other par five on the back-nine, the 12th, only averaged 4.75 but every other hole after the straightforward ninth is tough and they all averaged over-par for the week last year.
Dean Burmester has only ordinary course form with three missed cuts and two top-20s but that's the only negative and I don't think it's a huge negative. When he finished 18th last year he started too slowly to figure and when 19th in 2017 he dropped away after a decent start so there's some evidence to suggest he can perform here and he's a better player now anyway.
He won his second European Tour event in May at the Tenerife Open and he arrives in Joburg in sparkling form. Having finished seventh in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October, he won the South African PGA Championship by two strokes three weeks ago so you can perhaps forgive his strange week at the Dubai Championship a fortnight ago where he could only finish 44th, despite sitting second after round one.
A very consistent week last week, where he ranked second for Greens In Regulation and ninth for Scrambling, saw him file four consecutive 69s to finish an impressive tied sixth behind Collin Morikawa and he'll take some beating if he can repeat any of those three recent performances here.
In contrast to the favourite, fellow South African, Dylan Frittelli, is in poor form and on two previous visits to Randpark he's finished 42nd and missed the cut so he's easy to dismiss.
Given the fine record of South Africans in their homeland on the European Tour, and his current form, I was more than happy to back Dean Burmester at 12.5.
He's been drifting all week and is now an attractive price whereas two others I liked, South Africa's Jayden Schaper and Germany's Matti Schmid, have shortened up a little too much for my liking but I'll be checking in again tomorrow to see if they drift.
I also quite like the look of Challenge Tour graduate, Marcus Helligkilde, who's attempting to become the fifth different Dane to win on Tour in 12 events. That should provide some inspiration, as will the fact that fellow countryman, JB Hansen, won the last edition. He arrives in South African having won three of his last ten starts on the Challenge Tour and he equipped himself nicely when last seen on this DP World Tour - finishing 12th at the Dutch Open where he ranked 13th for Greens In Regulation and ninth for Putting Average.
I've got a few outsiders I like too, and I'll be back tomorrow with those in the Find Me a 100 Winner column.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter