Joburg Open guide
A preview and best bets for this week's Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club
By Dave Tindall Twitter: @DaveTindallgolf. Last Updated: 03/02/14 4:01pm
The 17th hole on the East Course at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club
After three weeks in the Middle East, the European Tour returns to South Africa for the Joburg Open.
It's the ninth year in a row the tournament has had Euro Tour status and the list of previous winners is impressive, with Charl Schwartzel winning back-to-back in 2010 and 2011 and Richard Sterne also winning for the second time last year.
With Branden Grace taking the title in 2012, it means home South African players have won each of the last four runnings and five of the last six.
Once again the tournament will be contested over two courses at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club.
Rounds one and two will be shared between the East and West courses, before the more difficult East takes charge for the final 36 holes.
West Course: Par 71; 7,203 yards
East Course: Par 72; 7,658 yards
Winning Totals (Last Four Years):
-27 Richard Sterne (2013)
-17 Branden Grace (2012)
-19 Charl Schwartzel (2011)
-23 Charl Schwartzel (2010)
Last Year - Richard Sterne
Sterne, coming off a second place in Dubai the previous week, went wire-to-wire after leading off with a 63 and adding rounds of 65-68-64 to score a hugely impressive seven-shot victory. He ranked 1st for Greens In Regulation (hitting an amazing 90.3%) and when he did miss one he got up and down (2nd in Scrambling). All the top six were ranked in the top eight for Greens In Reg while Branden Grace was ranked third in that category when he took victory in 2012 so that looks a key stat.
Leading contenders (with Sky Bet odds)
Charl Schwartzel (7/2): A winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championship on home soil at the start of December, Schwartzel hasn't justified his cramped odds in three starts since with a sixth at the Nedbank, a fourth in defence of his Thailand Golf Championship and a 15th in the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban in his only start so far in 2014. However, his record in this event is superb with a win in 2010, a successful title defence in 2011 when he shot a 61 in round two and a second place last year.
George Coetzee (11/1): Still without a European Tour win despite numerous near misses, which include three good efforts here. He was seventh in 2011, the halfway leader in 2012 before slipping from second after 54 holes to 14th and also third last year. After an injury-hit 2013 affected him for long periods, he's come out of the gate fast in 2014 and two starts in the desert produced a fourth in Abu Dhabi and a fifth in Qatar.
Richard Sterne (22/1): A five-year gap separates his two wins here (2008 and 2013) and in between he didn't fare particularly well, with only one finish better than 40th. He was absolutely unstoppable last year when romping home by seven shots although his form going into this year's event is nothing like it was 12 months ago. Sterne teed it up twice on the Middle West Swing but missed the cut in Qatar and finished a disappointing tied 54th in Dubai last week despite a promising first-round 66.
Thomas Aiken (25/1): A seven-time winner on the South African Sunshine Tour and also a double European Tour champ (2011 Open de Espana and 2013 Avantha Masters), Aiken knows how to get his nose in front and must rank a big danger in this event. He's finished 8th, 19th and 5th in three starts in 2014 while, in this tournament, he topped the leaderboard after three rounds in 2011 before finishing third and was also sixth last year after a pair of weekend 66s.
The 'secret' to finding the winner here really isn't much of a secret to be honest.
Quite simply, look for a proven, in-form South African.
Charl Schwartzel could easily make it three wins at this venue and wreck the chances of anyone else taking the title but his presence also means bigger prices on the rest.
So, the two who very much fit the bill are George Coetzee and Thomas Aiken.
George Coetzee: Ready to win
Coetzee made the top five in excellent company in both Abu Dhabi and Qatar and he has plenty of encouraging course form here.
In Qatar, he said: "I'm busy working on stuff on my swing, so it's nice to shoot good numbers when you're busy working on stuff. But I can't wait for it to click because I might be unstoppable."
Hopefully this may be the week and he can finally get over the winning line and start to really fulfil his massive potential.
His putter looks red-hot so, on greens he knows well, he just needs to give himself enough looks at birdies and eagles to cash in.
Aiken is fifth in Greens In Regulation this year, boasts some good course form and added to some already strong results with a fifth in Qatar.
After just missing out in Doha (he finished two shots out of the play-off), Aiken said: " I'm playing nicely and putting myself in good positions, so I can't complain. You just have to wait for your time and when the time is right, it will happen. Just keep practising and playing good golf and hopefully get a couple of wins this year."
This is a good chance to bag the first of those and 25/1 is a decent enough each-way price.
European players have filled a number of the top 10 slots in the past few years so there is scope to look beyond the South Africans.
Danny Willett is the obvious one as he finished fourth in this event in both 2009 and 2010. He's also coming off a 13th in Dubai so his confidence is up.
However, the 28/1 isn't giving much away so it may pay to look further down the betting.
Edoardo Molinari was driving the ball beautifully at times in Dubai and finally looks as if he's shaking off the hand injuries which have plagued him over the last couple of seasons.
The Italian has enormous pedigree having won the US Amateur, played in the Ryder Cup and risen to 14th in the world rankings during 2010 so, in theory, the 50/1 could be a big price.
Having finished ninth in Dubai, where he was in the top 20 for Greens In Regulation, he's on the right track again and hopefully can continue his resurgence here.
4pts win George Coetzee at 11/1
2pts e.w. Thomas Aiken at 25/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Edoardo Molinari at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)