The Tshwane Open is very much the second-string event on the European Tour but there's a winner in there somewhere so our man's had a good look to see if he can find him. Read The Punter's detailed preview here...
“The 2015 winner, George Coetzee, can’t possibly be described as dependable in-contention. In fact, he’s the absolute antithesis of a reliable player in-the-mix but would he win this once if it was played out ten times? I suspect he might. As frustrating as he is to back he must be respected at a venue he’s been playing regularly since childhood.”
There are two European Tour events on offer this week, In addition to the WGC-Mexico Championship, the Tour also returns to South Africa for the sixth edition of the Tshwane Open and for the fourth year in-a-row the event is staged at the Pretoria Country Club.
Pretoria Country Club, Waterkloof, South Africa
Par 71, 7,081 yards
Stroke Index in 2017 - 70.99
After two years at the Ernie Els designed Copperleaf course in Centurion the tournament moved just a few miles north to the Bob Grimsdel designed Pretoria Country Club three years ago. The course opened way back in 1910 and underwent a major redesign by the Gary Player Group in 2004/05.
Described as tight and tree lined, the course has several ponds on the front nine and a river that runs through holes 13 to 17 on the back nine. The Kikuyu fairways are of average width but tight in places and the small, undulating and elevated greens are Bentgrass.
In addition to being the host course for this event for the last three years, Pretoria also hosted the Vodacom Championship between 2006 and 2010 on the Sunshine Tour and it was also used six times between 2005 and 2011 as part of the Vodacom Origins pro-am series.
Here's a full list of course winners on the Sunshine Tour
2005 - Desvonde Botes (Vodacom origins - 54 holes)
2006 - Charl Schwartzel (Vodacom Championship)
2006 - Vaughn Groenewald (Vodacom origins - 54 holes)
2007 - Richard Sterne (Vodacom Championship)
2007 - Hennie Otto (Vodacom origins - 54 holes)
2008 - James Kingston (Vodacom Championship)
2008 - Tyrone Van Aswegen (Vodacom origins - 54 holes)
2009 - Anders Hansen (Vodacom Championship)
2009 - Brandon Pieters (Vodacom origins - 54 holes)
2010 - Hennie Otto (Vodacom Championship)
2011 - Jean Hugo (Vodacom origins - 54 holes)
Live on Sky all four days, starting at 8:30 on Thursday morning in the UK.
First Five Winners
2013 - Dawie van der Walt -21
2014 - Ross Fisher -20
2015 - George Coetzee -14
2016 - Charl Schwartzel -16
2017 - Dean Burmester -18
What Will it Take to Win the Tshwane Open?
This looks like a really tight track with thick kikuyu rough, suggesting that the first thing to consider is Driving Accuracy but the stats don't bear that out at all.
The first two winners here, George Coetzee and Charl Schwartzel, only ranked 39th and 18th for DA, while ranking tenth and second for Driving Distance, suggesting that length is more important than accuracy and last year's result emphasized that even further.
The first four home ranked fifth, sixth, third and seventh for Driving Distance but 73rd, 32nd, and tied 54th for Driving Accuracy. It may not be described as such, or look remotely like it, but Pretoria appears to be a bombers paradise.
Greens In Regulation isn't a stat to get hung up. Coetzee ranked 13th and Schwartzel first but Burmester ranked 84th! Schwartzel only had a Putting Average ranking of 21st but Coetzee ranked fourth and Burmester ranked ninth so that's not a standout stat but all three winners ranked inside the top-ten for Scrambling and all three played the par fours better than anyone else.
Driving Distance, Scrambling and Par 4 Scoring look the stats to concentrate on.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
We've had three editions of the Tshwane Open at Pretoria Country Club and all three winners have been well-fancied South Africans. There were a number of low-ranking and inexperienced European Tour players in-the-mix last year but it was the 16/1 chance, Burmester, that came through in the end.
Burmester was the only South African in the top-five last year so it might be that the Europeans are starting to get to grips with the place but I'd still strongly favour the home contingent given five of the top-six in 2016, and four of the first five in 2015, were all South Africans.
This is a tough little course and it's sorted the wheat from the chaff in the past. In addition to Burmester's success at 16/1, Schwartzel was the favourite in 2016, Coetzee was a well-fancied 20/1 shot in 2015, and the five winners at this venue in the Vodacom Championship, played over four rounds, were all fairly classy.
Schwartzel, Richard Sterne, James Kingston, Anders Hansen and Hennie Otto all established themselves outside of South Africa on the European Tour and the only man to lose in a playoff here, Louis Oosthuizen, has a fairly decent CV.
This is a venue where the cream rises to the top so concentrating on those towards the head of the market may be the way to go again this year. And experienced players are worthy of close inspection.
Burmester sat tied for 16th and three back after round one last year and he was four back and tenth at halfway before going into the final round trailing by just a stroke so he was never far from the lead but this is definitely a venue at which a fast start is far from essential. Schwartzel trailed by eight strokes after round one two years ago before going on to win by six and he was far from the first to start slowly and finish well...
Coetzee trailed by four strokes after rounds one and two in 2015 and he was tied for the lead after round three but the runner-up, Blaauw, was tied for 22nd, five adrift, and trading at around 600.0599/1 before the final round and yet he was matched at odds-on in-running! Had Coetzee not kept his calm well, Blaauw would have walked away with the trophy and others have won here from even further back.
The four 72-hole course winners between 2006 and 2009, as well as Oosthuizen, who lost to Sterne in a playoff in 2007, were all at least five back after round one. Schwartzel, trailed by three at halfway and he led by three with a round to go in 2006 but the other three winners, and Oosty, all came from some way back...
The 2007 playoff protagonists, Sterne and Oosthuizen, trailed by seven and four strokes respectively at halfway and they were still six and four back after three rounds. The 2008 winner, James Kingston, was never nearer than four off the lead at any stage before winning by two strokes and Anders Hansen was five adrift after rounds one and two and two back after round three, before he went on to win comfortably by four strokes.
Blaauw's flying finish, coupled with the Vodacom Championship stats, certainly suggest it's possible to come from some way back to win here and backing anyone that starts fast on Sunday, from some way back, might be worth a go.
I backed four players from off the pace before round four last year and although it didn't come off, it's a tactic I'll employ again in similar circumstances.
A number of players rallied and birdied holes at the end, once all chance of victory had gone, but it was noticeable that well in to the back-nine last year, only three of the top-12 on the leaderboard at the start of play were under-par. It's a tricky course where things can go wrong in a hurry but it's also somewhere where low scores are possible. With so many inexperienced players in the field and with so much at stake, this is a tournament where I'm confident we'll see a big-priced closer win at some stage.
The course was changed last year, with the par going from 70 to 71 and what was previously a tough closing hole became a very easy par five (the easiest on the course - averaging 4.48) so the finish is now much more simple. The par four 17th, which can be set-up to be drivable, was the third easiest last year so although it's possible to come from off the pace and post a score here, it's also now very possible to finish birdie-birdie or better to catch any clubhouse leaders.
The 2015 winner, George Coetzee, can't possibly be described as dependable in-contention. In fact, he's the absolute antithesis of a reliable player in-the-mix but would he win this once if it was played out ten times? I suspect he might. As frustrating as he is to back (he missed the cut last year having sat three off the lead after round one!) he must be respected at a venue he's been playing regularly since childhood.
Only last week he drifted away over the weekend having put himself in to contention at a course that suits, so anyone backing him has to do so with the complete understanding that he has the propensity to frustrate even the most chilled-out punters but I thought he'd be a single-figure price in this field given he's shown a bit of form lately.
Alexander Bjork, who's yet to win on the European Tour, looks a poor price in comparison and the same can be said about Julian Suri and Marcus Kinhult. I know it's a poor field but given the strong record of the home contingent, those three are very easy to dismiss at less than 30.029/1.
Whilst being content in the knowledge that I'm highly likely to laugh at myself for being so daft, I've had a small bet on George Coetzee. He's ordinarily too short to consider for betting purposes, given his history in-the-mix, but as already highlighted above, he looks reasonably priced this week.
I'm playing multiple course winner, Hennie Otto, who comes from Boksburg, which is less than an hour away, and I'm also playing two more Pretorians to go with George...
Darren Fichardt has five European Tour wins already (including last year's Joburg Open) and he's finished runner-up at Pretoria three times in total. He's missed his last four cuts but at 42 he has enough experience to suddenly turn it on out of the blue at a venue he knows intimately and he finished last week's Qatar Masters with a bogey-free five-under-par back-nine..
My last pick is even riskier, but Zander Lombard really caught the eye last week. After an opening 76 at the Qatar Masters, he was always going to be odds-on to have a weekend off but he finished even stronger than Fichardt, birdying seven of his last ten holes.
George Coetzee @ 14.013/1
Hennie Otto @ 75.074/1
Darren Fichardt @ 85.084/1
Zander Lombard @ 120.0119/1
I'll be back shortly with my WGC-Mexico Championship preview.
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