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South African Open Championship Preview

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So, without further ado, we begin the 2014 European Tour season, no rest for the wicked eh? Well actually, there is, with many of the big names taking the week off, at least. The most notable absence in the field is none other than, Race to Dubai winner, and FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson, who has had to withdraw due to his wrist injury. This is a big loss for the event this week, as not only is he arguably the hottest player in the world right now, but he’s also the defending champion of this event. Stenson won this event, this time last year, and many believe this was the spark of his recent revival. He is however, taking a well earned break, and that leaves Charl Schwartzel as the standout favourite at 5/1 this week.

Past winners of this event will have to adapt to the change in course this week, as Glendower CC plays host this week, and although the history of the course dates back to 1935, it’s not easy to find out all we would like about this venue. It is currently the host course of Sunshine Tour event, the BMG Classic, and this gives us an indication of which of those Sunshine Tour players could surprise a few this week. The course itself, is average in length and therefore long hitters do not gain any real advantage, as all par 5s are reachable in two for most. Accuracy is key, as the rough is not easy to get out of, and the fairways have been tightened for the event this week, therefore Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation will be a factor again.

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With many of the big stars out, players will look to take advantage and post a good finish, which will give them a boost at the very start of the new season. Birdies will have to be made, and I expect the winning score to be around the -20 mark, as the most recent winning score at this course was -15, and that was at the BMG Classic, a 54-hole event.

This is a limited field, in terms of quality European Tour players and therefore a surprise or two will be in order, but I definitely feel there are players at the head of the market, even behind Schwartzel who will need to be considered. South Africans obviously have a very strong record in this event, and it would be naive to think that the home guys won’t have a part to play at the top of the leaderboard, so again it’s hard to look past those. Having said that, there’s some exciting European’s in the field this week, with a few making there European Tour debut, so again players like Carlos Del Moral, last week’s Q-School winner, and Andrea Pavan will be exciting to follow.

With all this in mind, there is some decent value to be had, and although Schwartzel will take some beating if he brings his A-game, I have made four selections who I can see taking him on, and hopefully come Sunday these guys will feature.

Here are my picks for the 2014 European Tour opener, the South African Open Championship.

Hennie Otto 25/1 (General) 2pts e/w: Hennie Otto is sometimes a very difficult golfer to work out, but this week I have full faith in him, and that’s why he headlines my selections.

Although he’s only won twice on the European Tour, one of those wins was at his event, back in 2011. He held off Bernd Wiesberger, and although that was two years ago, at a different course, he should still draw confidence from that. More recently Otto played in the aforementioned BMG Classic, which was played last month, finishing an impressive T2, which is a big positive for me. When you look at it, he’s won this event in recent years, and also played well at this course, just last month, so he definitely fits the bill for me this week.

Form figures of 3, 2, 6 and 12th in his last five events suggests he’s playing well, and that in itself makes him a good prospect. At 25/1 he’s much shorter than usual, and is not a player that is normally that sort of price, but he’s in his home country, on a course he’s proved he can play, so he definitely appeals.

I originally had him up at 33/1 but that price is now gone, before I could get the preview up, so although it does now seem a bit too much on the short side, I’m going to stick to my guns and include Otto at 25/1.

I am hoping however that we don’t see any of this from him this week >>> LINK

Ulrich Van Den Berg 66/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w: Ulrich Van Den Berg is not a player well known to the European Tour, however on the Sunshine Tour, especially this year he’s performed very well.

As previously mentioned, the BMG Classic, a Sunshine Tour event is played at this course, and last month Van Den Berg left the field behind, shooting -15 over three rounds, en route to an impressive victory. Before that, he had three top 5s, and a further three top 10s so he’s been in form, and has carried that into this week. In his last two events, since the win at this course last month, he’s finished 2nd and 20th, so at 66/1 I’m happy to take a chance on him.

Confidence will be high, apart from his win here, he’s also finished 13th, 11th and 24th at this course in previous visits, so he’s obviously very comfortable with the layout. The quality of the players around him are dramatically better this week, but if he can play his own game, knowing that he’s in fine form, he may well just sneak up that leaderboard, doing the Glendower double. The occasion could of course get to him, and he may not be able to deal with the increased attention, and possibly pressure, but I’m happy to give him a chance to prove himself, on this bigger stage.

Tjaart Van Der Walt 100/1 (Ladbrokes) 1pt e/w: Tjaart Van Der Walt, like Van Den Berg isn’t one of the bigger names on the European Tour, but he does at least feature on it, so hopefully he’ll feel comfortable in the field.

Van Der Walt has finished 28th and 1st in his last two starts, so he must be playing well, and winning in Africa just a few weeks ago will definitely give him some confidence. On his only start at the BMG Classic he finished 14th, and although I don’t want to put to much emphasis on results in that event, it’s proved he can navigate Glendower.

As well as being familiar with his surroundings, Van Der Walt has big thing going for him this week, and that’s his accuracy off the tee.  He ranked 18th on the European Tour in Driving Accuracy, hitting just under 70% of fairways, so hopefully he keeps that up this week, and improves on other areas of his game in the process.

There are three events this year where Van Der Walt impressed, firstly at the Africa Open at the start of the year, when he finished T5, followed by his 2nd at the Najeti Hotels, although that was a weakened field. Most impressively maybe, was his T18 at the Wales Open, a tough track, where even the best players struggled, so there’s obvious talent there.

He is no spring chicken at 39, and with his win last month being his first professionally, you have to wonder whether he can compete, but if you do, this for me is the time to back him. He’s in Africa, on a course he’s familiar with, and he’s just found out what it’s like to win in the professional game, something that may give him some extra self-belief. The man, who has spent years finishing runner-up, all around the world, at every level, has now got his first win, and he may just feel he can go on and nick a few more before he’s done. The price was enough to tempt, purely because of his win recently, and the fact it’s in South Africa, and at 100/1 who may seem value come Sunday.

Brandon Pieters 250/1 (Coral & PaddyPower) 0.5pt e/w: Brandon Pieters completes the selections, and also makes it four out of four, as South African’s dominate my preview.

Like Van Der Walt, he is certainly not young, and at 37 you thought he may of achieved a lot more, but he has won before and that’s what gives me some hope this week.

Pieters has played at Glendower on multiple occasions and between 2009-2011 he was the stand out player at the BMG Classic, finishing 3rd, 1st and 4th over the three year spell. After winning the BMG Classic in 2010, Pieters has proved inconsistent, finishing 4th, then withdrawing in 2012, followed by missing the cut last month, but I’m hoping that given a second crack at the course in the same year will prove beneficial. I’m hoping that he can draw on good memories from the past, putting the last couple of attempts behind him, consequently showcasing his talents on the bigger stage.

Considering he only plays the Sunshine Tour, he is, in a sense a proven winner, winning four times in his career, three in 2009 and then once in 2010. This really is purely down to price, and if he wasn’t over 200/1 he would no way make his way into the plan, but at 250/1 he seemed a touch big, for a player who has a proven record at the course.

Total Points Staked this week: 10

Profit/Loss for 2013: +71.75

This is not an event I’m particularly excited about, but it does include some good players, and therefore should provide some interest for those who intend to watch. With no PGA Tour event, it’s a relatively quiet week, with a few players heading over to Japan for the Dunlop Phoenix, and others making the trip to Melbourne for the World Cup of Golf. This is the start of the 2014 season however, and it all counts towards the end of season standings, so players will be looking to put in a good performance, here in Johannesburg.