Course experience could be vital
Strong scrambling and a hot putter required at St Francis
Read my Valspar Championship preview here
The DP World Tour returns to South Africa this week for the inaugural staging of the SDC Championship.
The event is co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour at a venue familiar to the locals - St Francis Links in the western section of the Eastern Cape.
St Francis Golf Links, St Francis Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Par 72 - 7,192
Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2006, St Francis Bay Links was voted the Best New Course in South Africa in 2007 and it consistently ranks as one of the top 10 golf courses in the country.
Here's a video of Nicklaus talking about the venue in December 2006, where he says St Francis Links may well be '...the best golf course I have ever seen'.
It's a traditional links course with a standard par 72 layout with four par fives and four par threes. The par four fifth, eighth and 12th holes, which measure between 350 and 400 yards, are described on the venue's website as risk reward holes.
It looks a beautiful venue and a true links layout.
For more on the course, see the hole explorer on the venue's website here.
Very disappointingly, it appears that this event won't be shown on Sky Sports.
Previous Results at the St Francis Links
Although new to the European contingent, the St Francis Links is a familiar venue for the South African contingent.
It's hosted 11 events on the Sunshine Tour, including the last two editions of the South African PGA Championship. Here's the top-three and ties at all the events played here previously.
Vodacom Origins of Golf Tour Final 2007 (54 holes)
Titch Moore -7
Ulrich Van Den Berg -4
Henrick Alberts +1
Vodacom Origins of Golf Tour Final 2008 (54 holes)
Jaco van Zyl -2
Bradford Vaughan -1
Andrew Curlewis +3
Vodacom Origins of Golf Tour Final 2013 (54 holes)
J.J Senegal -4 (playoff)
Titch Moore -4
Lyle Rowe -2
Vodacom Origins of Golf Tour Final 2014 (54 holes)
Keith Horne -9
Erik Van Rooyen -6
Wallie Coetzee -1
Ulrich Van den Berg -1
Vodacom Origins of Golf Tour Final 2015 (54 holes)
Christiaan Basson -11
Mark Williams -10
Bibby Brice -9
Zander Lombard -9
Vodacom Origins of Golf Tour Final 2016 (54 holes)
Mark Williams -11
Christiaan Bezuidenhout -9
Jacques Blaauw -6
Keith Horne -6
Madailtso Muthiya -6
Vodacom Origins - St Francis Links 2017 (54 holes)
Doug McGuigan -13
Hennie Du Plessis -11
Scott Campbell -9
Neil Schietekat -9
Steve Surry -9
Vodacom Origins - St Francis Links 2018 (54 holes)
Alex Haindl -12
Jake Roos -11
Neil Schietekat -11
South African PGA Championship 2021 (72 holes)
Dean Burmester -17
Pieter Moolman -15
Louis De Jager -14
Vodacom Origins - St Francis Links 2022 (54 holes)
Ruan Korb -13
Ockie Strydom -11
Doug McGuigan -9
South African PGA Championship 2022 (72 holes)
George Coetzee -15
Casey Jarvis -12
Hennie Otto -11
Jake Redman -11
What Will it Take to Win the SDC Championship?
There were no stats produced for the first two 54-hole tournaments staged here but we do have limited data for the other nine tournaments and Scrambling has been the key stat.
Ranking seventh for Greens In Regulation and fifth for Putts Per Round, J.J Senegal ranked only 34th for Scrambling in 2013 and Dean Burmester ranked only 18th.
Like Senegal, Burmester was successful because he found plenty of greens (ranked fourth for GIR) and he putted nicely but the other seven winners have scrambled really well, ranking first, first, ninth, second, sixth, 12th and third.
The worst any winner has ranked for Putts Per Round is 21st (Alex Haindl in 2018) and Dean Burmester, who ranked 13th for PPR is the only victor to rank any worse than 10th for that stat so a good week with the flatstick looks vital too.
For the record, George Coetzee won with a 15-under-par total last year and he picked up the majority of his strokes on the long holes - playing the par fives in 12-under-par.
Is There an Angle In?
It would be quite a surprise to see the title go to someone that hasn't played the course before.
According to the venue's website, the tees are not artificially perched above the playing areas and the holes follow the terrain provided so a "sighter" is needed to get the feel of the land.
South Africans have a great record in their homeland on the DP World Tour and the European contingent are going to be up against it.
Look at form at other events staged on links layouts for clues and looking at the very early forecasts, an ability to play in windy conditions look vital.
Not knowing what the weather was like for any of the events staged here is a bit of a hinderance.
The variation in the winning scores suggest conditions have been quite different form year to year but as is so often the case at links layouts, the majority of the course winners have been up with the pace.
Coetzee was never outside the top-two places at the South African PGA last year and although Burmester sat tied for 12th and six adrift at halfway in 2021, he sat fourth and three back with a round to go before going on to win by two.
Looking at the nine events staged here over only 54 holes, the first seven winners sat first or second with a round to go and Alex Haindl sat third and four adrift after 36 holes but Ruan Korb trailed by seven strokes in 15th place after two rounds last year before firing 63 in round three to win by two.
Jordan Smith has cooled off considerably since his record-breaking 30-under-par romp to victory at the Portugal Masters back in October and his 2023 form figures read a very ordinary MC-20-17-MC.
Smith finished runner-up at the MyGolfLife Open this time last year and ninth in the Nedbank Challenge in November in South Africa and his victory in Portugal puts him in the frame. Links form stands up very well at the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course.
Antoine Rozner won the Mauritius Open in December - an event co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour - and he finished inside the top-six in both the Singapore Classic and the Thailand Classic last month but he missed the cut last week in Kenya.
That's a bit of a concern and so too is the fact that his tied 20th at the 2020 Joburg Open is his best effort in South Africa in ten visits.
The promising young South African, Jayden Schaper, who has course form figures reading 5-6-10, has been in fine form of late, finishing 17th in Thailand, 13th in India and seventh last week in Kenya, but he's yet to win anywhere and he looks a bit short at less than 30.029/1.
As highlighted above, I fancy the South Africans are going to be greatly advantaged playing a venue that's new to the vast majority of the Europeans so my three selections are all South Africans and they all have form at the track.
I've got one triple-figure priced pick who'll I'll cover in the Find Me a 100 Winner column and I've backed two course winners - George Coetzee and J.J Senekal, who looks a fabulous price.
Coetzee is tricky to catch right and he's often a bit flaky in-contention. He led the Mediclinic Invitational in his homeland with a round to go last week before a disappointing 70 on Sunday saw him slip to third but he's also comfortably converted from the front, including here in the South African PGA Championship in November.
Coetzee also won wire-to-wire on the Sunshine Tour in August last year so he's fairly prolific and I thought he was fairly priced at 34.033/1 given he ranked fifth for Scrambling and eighth for Putting Average last week.
J.J Senekal won his first event here almost ten years ago, but he arrives this time around in the best form of his life and at the top of the Race to Mallorca standings on the Challenge Tour after a run of results in his homeland reading 14-6-1-3.
With a course win under his belt, a solid bank of current form, and some sensational recent stats, I thought he'd be quite a bit shorter than the 80.079/1 available.
In his last four starts, Senekal has ranked 11th, 10th, third and first for Scrambling and 10th, seventh, sixth, and first for PA and those numbers look perfect for the venue.
George Coetzee @ 34.033/1
J.J Senekal @ 85.084/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter