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Joburg Open preview

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This week, we return to South Africa, for the Joburg Open, and the homeland players certainly dominate this event. The tournament has been played since 2007, and out of the seven renewals, five have been won by a South African, including the last four and that will have to be considered when betting this week.

The Joburg Open is played over two courses at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, the East and the West, with the former hosting the final 36-holes, for the 65 and ties who make the cut on Friday. The East Course, which will need to be navigated three times by anyone who makes the cut, spans over  7,658 yards, whilst the West comes in at a more modest, 7,203 yards.

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There are three places in this year’s Open Championship up for grabs here, for players who place in the top-10, who are not already exempt. This should be added incentive to those, who possibly need extra motivation, and it’s a great opportunity for those players, who may struggle otherwise to make it to Hoylake (Open venue) this year.

Charl Schwartzel, as he regularly is in these fields, is the short favourite this week, at 4/1, followed by George Coetzee (11/1) who is still looking for his first European Tour win. The three others who make up the top-5 in the betting this week are, 2006 and 2013 champion Richard Sterne (18/1), Thomas Aiken (22/1) and Danny Willett (28/1).

The strength of field has a lot to do with these cut-down prices, on each of these players, but looking at previous winners of this event, the best in the field tend to prosper, with the exception of Ariel Canete, who won the inaugural staging in 2007. Apart from Schwartzel and Sterne who account for four wins between them, Anders Hansen (2009) and Branden Grace (2012) have won here in Johannesburg, but neither player is teeing it up this week. So three past champions tee it up this week, with both Schwartzel and Sterne keen to add to their trophy cabinets here, on one their favourite stomping grounds. If you’re optimistic, and feel 2007 champion Canete can win again, he’s 500/1 to do so!

It is good to have some past experience of Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC, with past winners, Grace, Schwartzel and Sterne all having top-15 finishes prior to their win, and any player looking to disrupt the South African domination, will definitely be in a better position to do so, should they of finished inside the top-15 in the past.

The top-15 theory won’t necessarily put me off certain players, as I think there are players in the field this week, who can not only put bad finishes behind them, but can also win at courses they haven’t seen before so although favourable, it’s not a must for me.

With all this in mind, here are my picks for the 2014 Joburg Open.

Thomas Aiken 22/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w: Despite now being a two-time winner on the European Tour, and a seven-time winner on South Africa’s Sunshine Tour, Aiken is yet to win an event in South Africa on the European Tour schedule, and that is something he will be looking to change.

Aiken’s two wins have come in India and Spain, and a win on home soil will no doubt please Aiken greatly. I do not doubt for a minute that he can win here, and I fully expect him to be in contention, come Sunday, as he has been in the past at this course. Aiken has finished in the top-15, three times at this event, including a 12th, a 6th and 3rd placed finish, his 6th place being his most recent in 2013.

Add to some good course form, with a great run of recent results, and you have what looks to be a solid pick, at 22/1. Aiken did not play last week, but in the three weeks prior, he posted finishes of, 5-19-8, something that will give him great confidence, when returning to his home city of Johannesburg.

Not only is he a local boy, with good form both here and in recent weeks, but Aiken is a wonderfully gifted player, who when full of confidence, can play some tremendous golf. It took him a while to establish himself on the European Tour, after first gaining his card in 2008, but with wins in 2011 and 2013, he really looks to of found his feet, and  I certainly believe he can add to those wins in the future.

His 5th place finish at the Qatar Masters two weeks ago, will be a particular highlight in recent months, as well as his 8th place finish at the Volvo Golf Champions last month. He has not finished outside the top-20 in 2014, and I am confident that form carries over to the Joburg Open this week.

Aiken is the one player at the head of the betting who I feel represents some decent value, as I am happy to leave both Schwartzel and Coetzee alone at their respective prices, and Sterne’s lacklustre finish last week, made this decision even easier. I do think Aiken can match all of the players above him in the betting on his day, and with the form he’s in right now, 22/1 looks a good price for him to become the 5th South African winner here.

Garth Mulroy 66/1 (General) 1pt e/w: Mulroy has missed three straight cuts on the European Tour in 2014, but I am banking on that all changing, here at the Joburg Open.

You may think 66/1 about a player, who clearly isn’t in the best of form was a bit short, but there are two main factors for his price this week. One being his nationality, another South African who will be keen to impress on home turf, the other being his form at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington.

Twice a runner up here, Mulroy will be keen to go one better and take home a title, he may well think he’s due to win. He lost out to Sterne in 2008, and more recently Schwartzel in 2011, both highly talented players, and there’s no shame in finishing behind them. He lost in a play-off to Sterne, and finished just one shot behind Schwartzel, so he pushed them right to the very end, and that proves he can compete, with even the best of players here.

He finished 9th last year, so he is still capable of playing well here, and at 66/1 I’m happy to gamble on him upping his game this week, on a course(s) that he has proved he loves.

Stuart Manley 200/1 (StanJames) 0.5pt e/w: Welshman, Manley has started to find some good form again, highlighted by his runner-up finish in the Hong Kong Open, and his top-10 when he represented Wales at the World Cup of Golf.

He was very close to securing his first European Tour victory, at the Hong Kong Open, eventually losing out in a play-off to veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez, but he will no doubt be taking the positives from that week.

In a recent interview in Today’s Golfer magazine, Manley spoke of his desire to not only retain his card, which he would do for the first time, should he secure his playing rights for next year, but also some bigger targets in 2014. “I don’t really want to think about keeping my card” and “I want to think more about Top 60 and Race to Dubai” This to me shows a new found belief for Manley, who has clearly adjusted his goals after his near miss in Hong Kong, and hopefully he can start them off on the right foot here. He also went on to mention his dreams of playing in majors, and team competitions such as the Seve Trophy and the Ryder Cup. He acknowledged that these were ambitious aims, but to me  they suggests he is driven, another characteristic of his I like.

He has finished 64th and 43rd since his 2nd at Hong Kong, but with some new found confidence and past course form to go by, Manley could once again feature at the head of the leaderboard.

Manley finished 12th here in 2011, despite missing the cut on his three previous attempts, which is further evidence of his steely resilience. He will need to continue his improvement early on in the season, to relieve any sort of pressure he may feel towards the end of the year, in regards to keeping his card, and the Joburg Open presents a great opportunity for him to do just that.

He appealed straight away at 200/1 as he will have his heart set on a big finish here, especially as there are three spots  in the Open Championship up for grabs, for those in the top-10, and  as aforementioned playing in a major championship is one of his primary goals.

Points staked on the European Tour this week: 6

Profit/Loss for 2014: +169.25

A win for Stephen Gallacher in Dubai last week, was our second win early on in this 2014 season, and hopefully that form can continue for as long as possible. I am confident all three of the players above are up for the challenge, the Joburg Open will present, and hopefully we can make it three wins in four weeks. Any feedback or questions you may have, do not hesitate to get in contact on Twitter on @TJacobsGolf.