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Africa Open preview

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On to the 7th event of this European Tour season, to be held in South Africa, and this time it’s East London GC that plays host to the Africa Open this week.

The big news prior to the start of this week is last week’s champion, George Coetzee has pulled out of the event this week, after getting his first win on the European Tour at the Joburg Open.

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The only real surprise in regards to Coetzee winning, was how long it took, and now that the obviously hugely talented South African has got off the mark, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him venture back into the winners circle again this season.

East London GC is a par 72, 6,632 yard course, which makes it one of the shortest modern day courses on Tour, so length will not be a factor this week. There are several bunkers on the course, some of which surround some small greens, so the emphasis will be on accuracy this week. Here is a brief hole-by-hole guide, from East London GC’ official website. http://elgc.co.za/TheCourse/tabid/64/Default.aspx

There are several elevation changes on the course, and this again will effect shot types, especially off the tee. A mixed bag of narrow and wide fairways, driving accuracy could be as important as Greens in Regulation, whilst weather conditions can also play a huge part.

The weather is expected to be fairly calm during play on Thursday, but rain could fall over night, effecting the course prior to play on Friday. Strong winds are then expected over the weekend, predominately Saturday, and good play in round-3, during such conditions maybe key to winning the Africa Open this week.

The weather will be the main contributing factor to the winning score this week, but history suggests you will need shoot some low numbers this week to stay in contention. The winning score here at East London GC, since 2009 has ranged between -16 & -27. The last five winning scores are: -16 (2013), -27 (2012), -16 (2011),  -20 ( 2010) and -21 (2009). I cannot see the winning score being anything like-27, like it was in 2012 and I suspect, looking at the current weather conditions, that somewhere between -16 and -20 is more likely.

The biggest margin of victory since being held at East London GC is 2 strokes, when Darren Fichardt beat Gregory Bourdy and Jaco Van Zyl last year, as well as when Louis Oosthuizen beat Tjaart Van Der Walt by the same distance twelve months before. There has been a play-off on one occasion as well, when Oosthuzien beat Chris Wood and Manuel Quiros in 2011, so I fully expect a bunched leaderboard, come Sunday afternoon.

You’ve only got to take one look at the previous winners list to find out that, unsurprisingly this is another event dominated by South African players, and in fact not one player born outside of South Africa has ever won the event. A few have come close, but like the other events that are hosted in this part of the world, there is a clear advantage for players playing on home soil, and it would be naive to think the trend will be broken this week.

In light of this, it hardly comes as a shock to find that, three of the top five in the betting this week are South African players with Thomas Aiken (12/1) and Jaco Van Zyl (18/1) leading the way. Close behind those two are last year’s runner-up Gregory Bourdy (20/1) and Emiliano Grillo (25/1), whilst defending champion Darren Fichardt (28/1) completes the top five in the market.

This is one of, if not the weakest field you will see all season, and the prices at the head of the market reflect that. There are some players I am keen to back this week however, and hopefully our good fortune so far this year continues. We were close with Thomas Aiken last week at the Joburg Open, and it would of been nice to double up with winners on both sides of the pond, but it wasn’t to be.

With all this said, here are my selections for the 2014 Africa Open.

Jaco Van Zyl 18/1 (Bet365) 2.5 pts e/w: Jaco Van Zyl has never won on the European Tour, so people may question whether he is an 18/1 shot, but after seeing George Coetzee pick up his first European Tour title last week, at shorter odds, I am happy to back Van Zyl to do something similar here.

The big difference between Van Zyl and Coetzee prior to last week, was the amount of professional wins, both players had to their name. Although many people would put Coetzee in a different class bracket to Van Zyl, it was the latter who had the better record before Coetzee got his win the on the main tour, at the Joburg Open. Van Zyl has 13 Sunshine Tour victories, to Coetzee’s 5, and whilst Coetzee is definitely regarded as the better player, you could argue Van Zyl had the upper hand in terms of winning mentality.

Although the Sunshine Tour is a second-tier tour, you still have to know how to win, and Van Zyl’s 13 wins ranked 10th all time on his native tour, and I see no reason why he cannot take inspiration from his fellow compatriot, and win on the bigger stage this week.

Considering this, for me is a glorified Sunshine Tour event, I feel it’s well within Van Zyl’s capabilities to get the job done here, and his course form suggests something similar.

In five appearances in this event, since it found it’s home at the East London GC, Van Zyl has never finished outside the top-30, and has finished 2-4-4 on his last three attempts. Van Zyl, along with Gregory Bourdy finished two shots behind eventual winner Darren Fichardt, and had Van Zyl managed to avoid his disappointing round of 73, in the final round,  he could at least taken Fichardt to a play-off. Now I know it’s a lot of ifs or buts, but I truly believe this event is his best chance of getting a win on the European Tour, and hopefully he can do it this week.

He will not feel out of his depth at all in such a field, and I do think he’s too good of a player to not win at some point during his European Tour career. He definitely has the ability and know how to get the job done here, which is important and although he’s not a great price at 18/1, I cannot see a Sunday leaderboard without him at the very top this week.

Darren Fichardt 28/1 (StanJames) 1.5pts e/w: Darren Fichardt, like Van Zyl has a great record at this course, but with one noticeable difference, he has won this event.

Much to Van Zyl’s disappointment, Fichardt lifted the trophy here, twelve months ago, and whilst it’s hardly sticking my neck on the line, picking the 1 and 2 from last year, I cannot look past the pair to impress again.

Although Fichardt missed the cut last week, up until then he was in some great form since the start of the year with three consecutive finishes inside the top-20. That is a lot better form than he was in, when winning here 12 months ago, and the recent good play might be enough to carry him over the line again this week.

He did make the cut the week before last year, but I am happy to forgive him for doing so last week, and I’m a lot more interested in his course form. In the five times Fichardt has teed up here, he has missed two cuts, which may not sound great, but after winning last year he has ended up with finishes of 1-18-mc-mc-2 and hopefully the poor showings he had here in 2010-2011 are a distant memory.

Like Van Zyl, he also has 10 Sunshine Tour wins, but unlike the former, he has four European Tour victories, highlighting not only his ability, but his experience at getting over the line, and that may serve him well, should he be in contention once again this week.

I don’t see why he’s a 28/1 shot, considering the price of the players ahead of him in the market, and I think he offers great value this week. He will be looking replicate Louis Oosthuzien’s feat of defending his title here in the Africa Open, and at the the price I am backing him to do just that.

Alastair Forsyth 110/1 (StanJames) 0.5pt e/w: With two shorter price picks this week, it is nice to be able to include a third pick, who for me is overpriced, and could be another player to give us a run for our money.

Alastair Forstyth has had a decent career to this point, and the Scotsman will be looking to take advantage of some good form of late, and post a good finish here at the Africa Open. At 38, Forsyth is no spring chicken, but that doesn’t mean he cannot contend in tournaments, and this may be another chance for him to do just that.

The two-time European Tour winner, who in 2008 managed to surpass Scottish legend Colin Montgomerie in the Official World Golf Rankings, thanks to a T6 finish at the PGA Championship, is coming off the back of a decent showing in the Joburg Open last week, and hopefully he can carry that momentum to East London GC this week. He shot +4 in the final round, which saw him slip down to 31st, but he was well on his way to a top-10 finish after round-3, and that should boost his confidence, should he put the final day behind him in a hurry.

He has played here on two occasions, and on his course debut in 2012 he finished 47th. Fast forward a year, and you will notice that Forsyth finished in 5th place, shooting -22 in the process. In four of the last five renewals here, that score would of been enough to win, and hopefully he can post a similar score this week.

He was solid in all categories last time he played here, but ranking 5th in Greens in Regulation will no doubt of helped his cause, and hopefully he will be hitting many more this time around.

This is a price fuelled pick, but at 110/1 I think he’s well worth a small interest, as he looks to improve on his 5th placed finish on his last attempt in 2012 and continue his great run of form in 2014, which has seen him make the cut on the four occasions he’s teed up, with three finishes inside the top-34 in South African events.

Total Points staked on the European Tour this week: 9

Profit/Loss for 2014: +223.75

We were close once again, on the European Tour last week, but Thomas Aiken failed to convert a third round lead, which he shared with Justin Walters. Despite this disappointment, we did get a winner over the weekend, in the shape of Jimmy Walker, at the AT&T Pro-Am event, at Pebble Beach. This makes it three winners since the start of the year, and at odds of 25/1, 45/1 and 100/1, we’ve made a very healthy start to the season.

This is, of course a fantastic start, but I’m keen for this continue and refuse to get complacent. I fancy these three players to go well in South Africa this week, and whilst they were obvious picks, they do strike me as the best of the bunch in this field, and I couldn’t leave them out. You can, as ever find me on Twitter @TJacobsGolf and I would be more than happy