Joburg Open: Bombers can prevail on soaking wet set-up

Defending champ Darren Fichardt
Defending champ Darren Fichardt

We're off to South Africa for the final European Tour event of the year; read our man's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

“Eight of the 11 winners to date (and seven of the last eight) have been South African and a number of very good South African youngsters have broken their European Tour duck here. Along with Porteous, George Coetzee and Branden Grace both won for the first time on the ET in this event.”

Tournament History

This is the 12th edition of the Joburg Open and its being staged just ten months after the 11th but for the first time in the tournament's history we're off to a new venue.

Darren Fichardt won it in February at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club but with the East Course there undergoing changes; we're off to the Randpark Golf Club this time around.

The Joburg Open is now tri-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, European Tour and Asian Tour and with two courses in operation over the first two days the field is huge with more than 230 entrants.

The field is split in half over the first two days with one playing the supposedly slightly easier Bushwillow Course and the other half Firethorn. Those that play Bushwillow on Thursday play Firethorn on Friday and vice versa, the Thursday Firethorn lot get to attack Bushwillow on Friday. The cut is made on Friday night and the remainder of the tournament is staged solely around Firethorn.

Venue

Randpark Golf Club, Johannesburg

Course Details

Bushwillow - Par 71 7,114 yards

Bushwillow is described on the venue's website as a very picturesque, immaculately-conditioned, tree-lined course. It is shorter than neighbouring Firethorn but because of the abundance of trees lining the fairways there are some tight holes as well as some extremely challenging ones. There is a wide variety of holes and no two holes are remotely alike.

Firethorn - Par 72 7,595 yards

Firethorn, when still called Randpark, hosted the 1995 and 2000 South Africa Opens, won by Retief Goosen (-13) and Mathias Gronburg (-14) respectively and 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.

The course has undergone extensive changes since last used for competition golf so what use those results are is debatable.

The website describes the final three holes as "extremely demanding" and water is in play on seven holes. For more on the Firethorn Course, please see the hole-by-hole videos below.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days - starting at 08:30 UK and Ireland time on Thursday

Last Five Winners

2017 - Darren Fichardt -15 (February)
2016 - Haydn Porteous -18
2015 - Andy Sullivan -17
2014 - George Coetzee -19
2013 - Richard Sterne -27

What Will it Take to Win the Joburg Open?

With the absence of previous course form or stats to ponder, this is a tricky event to get to grips with but we do at least know what the weather has been doing, and it's been wet, very wet. See below!

That's going to hand the advantage to the bigger hitters. With the fairways playing soft there'll be very little or no run, so the ball won't roll. The big hitters will be much further down the fairways than the shorter hitters and because there's no roll, they'll avoid a lot of trouble.


Is there an Identikit Winner

Ariel Cañete, who hasn't won since, was any price you like when he won the inaugural event ten years ago and few fancied Haydn Porteous last year or Darren Fichardt in February. Both were matched before the off at 250.0249/1, but the eight winners between 2008 and 2105 were all quite well-fancied.

It's never a high quality field but the better players have prospered and even the last two big-priced winners are multiple European Tour winners now. The veteran, Fichardt, has five ET titles to his name and Porteous won the Czech Masters in September.

Eight of the 11 winners to date (and seven of the last eight) have been South African and a number of very good South African youngsters have broken their European Tour duck here. Along with Porteous, George Coetzee and Branden Grace both won for the first time on the ET in this event.

In-Play Tactics

It's very important to look at the hole averages for the two courses after the opening day. We're in the dark at the moment but we'll know by Thursday night how much easier the Bushwillow Course is so don't get caught out taking what look like generous prices for the leaders. If they've already played the Bushwillow Course, the chances are they'll get caught on day two as the other half of the draw gets their turn on the easier track.

Market Leaders

Louis Oosthuizen makes no appeal at all at around the 5/1 mark. He was a much bigger price last week on a course that looked ideal in a venue where he has a vested interest given he's designing a second tournament course at the resort. He has a great record in his homeland, and when he's dropped in grade like this, but as I highlighted at length in yesterdays De-brief he's an extremely frustrating character to back and he's not easy to get across the line.

Sunday's Mauritian winner, Dylan Frittelli, will be confident of following up after his playoff victory over Arjun Atwal but he too is an awful lot shorter than he was last week and winning back-to-back is notoriously tough. I like Frittelli and he's definitely going the right way but he might be worth swerving from the start. A slow start is a distinct possibility after the celebrations and he may prove a better prospect in-running.

Richard Sterne and Charl Schwartzel have both won this event twice and having won the event three years ago, George Coetzee is bidding to emulate them. He's been in fair form of late and his ninth place in Mauritius last week was a decent performance but he's a really frustrating player to back and I'm more than happy to leave him out.

Selections

Dean Burmester, who won the Tshwane Open back in March, is one of the big hitters that could well benefit from the soft conditions and I thought he was a fair price at around the 28/1 mark.

The 28-year-old Zimbabwean born South African was only 27th in Mauritius last week but he finished fourth in Dubai on his penultimate start, advertising just how good he is. A repeat of that sort of form would see him win this week and I thought he looked worth chancing modestly.

Defending champ, Darren Fichardt, isn't one to go to war with and he has a nasty habit of losing the plot when in-contention but I was happy to have a small bet on him too at the same price. He's been in fair form of late and he has course form too. He finished runner-up to Gronburg here in 2000 in the South Africa open and sixth here in the SAA Pro-Am Invitational ten years later.

Selections:
Back Dean Burmester to win @ 28.027/1
Back Darren Fichardt to win @ 28.027/1


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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