The Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club’s East and West courses host a huge group of players over the first couple of days of the Joburg Open. Over the weekend, the low sixty-five and ties will battle it out on the tougher Par 72 East Course. The Par 71 West Course is a good deal easier and while both courses may seem long, the altitude makes both courses play considerably shorter than their yardages.
There is an issue when you assemeble a 210-man field on the European Tour and it lacks as much quality as this field does. There’s every chance that Brandon Stone wakes up on Thursday in the mood and walks to victory. It does seem like every few years a new South African appears on the scene who is clearly destined to make his way into the upper echelons of the game. Stone’s chances here are obvious but if he doesn’t play his best then there’s a chance for an outsider to come out on top. Coetzee, Van Zyl and Sterne follow Stone in the betting but there’s enough questions about all of them to be happily avoided.
Statistically speaking, it’s tough to tell exactly what is required to win here but if we look at Haydn Porteous as something of an outlier then GIR certainly looks like the place to look. Porteous putted his way to victory last year but everything about his win was a bit off. Not only is he the only winner to have missed the cut in his last start, he’s the only winner who didn’t have a Top 20 in the season of his win, having missed every cut. Six of the ten Joburg Open winners arrived in Johannesburg off the back of a Top 20 finish and five of the ten winners had previously finished in the Top 5 at the event.
With all that in mind, I’ll start off with Justin Hicks at 50/1. As much as OWGR.com tries to convince me that this isn’t the former PGA Tour player, this is definitely the same Justin Hicks that used to ply his trade on the world’s top golf tour. Hicks decided to start his season in South Africa and opened up his year with a stunning 63. At the Eye of Africa PGA, Hicks was in control with two rounds to go but two 73s left him in T8 at the end of the week.
Last week at the Dimension Data Pro-Am though, Hicks didn’t let that hold him back. 68-66 over the weekend helped him to a tie for 2nd just one shot behind Paul Lawrie, the eventual winner. A big part of the reason that Hicks interests me is his style of play. Hicks finished 12th in GIR on the PGA Tour in 2013 and 2nd in that stat in 2014. Clearly his game is in good shape and he seems to be enjoying his time in South Africa. I do rate Hicks among the better players in this field and in this form, I think 50/1 is a very fair price.
Next up is Dylan Frittelli at 55/1. The 26-year-old is yet to win on the European Tour but I certainly believe he’s good enough to triumph in a field of this quality. Frittelli is the 6th highest ranked player in this field by OWGR and is coming off a T8 and a T2 in his last two starts. The Johannesburg local has never played particularly well in this event but he’s also never arrived at Royal Johannesburg in good form.
Frittelli ranked 6th in GIR on the Sunshine Tour in 2016 and of players that played more than twenty rounds last year, he ranked 6th in Birdies Per Round. The South African also ranked 13th in Driving Accuracy. In his current form, I think he has a very good chance of coming out on top this week.
Mark Williams is another interesting prospect at 150/1. The Zimbabwean won his first ever event on the Sunshine Tour at the end of 2016. Returning two weeks ago after an extended break with a T51 was fine but a solid Top 20 last week is promising. Ranking 8th in GIR and 4th in Total Birdies last year, Williams’ T13 last year doesn’t come as much of a shock. If Williams can just play his game this week then there’s every chance he can get into the mix in this field.
Jared Harvey is an intriguing bet at 200/1. The South African has never won on the Sunshine Tour but he did win a Big Easy Tour event at Royal Johannesburg’s East Course in 2012. Harvey ranked 15th in GIR on the Sunshine Tour last year and is coming into this week off the back of consecutive Top 10 finishes. If he continues on that run of form then hopefully he’ll have a chance to replicate his 2012 victory.
Finally, I’ll take a chance on Chris Lloyd at 250/1. The Englishman was one of the three men tied for 2nd behind Paul Lawrie last week. It was Lloyd’s first start in several months and he looked in top form. Playing the week after a solid showing, Lloyd has often carried on in the same vein and if he continues that trend then this price could seem huge come Sunday.