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South African Open Preview

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In November many European golf fans would have read US journalist Alan Shipnuck’s hyperbolic nonsense written about the bleak prospects of the European Ryder Cup team. However the vast majority would have realised just how biased the article was considering he has such little knowledge of the European Tour. Yet the one striking aspect of the article that we cannot refute is that the Tour is going through a transitional period. Stalwarts such as Harrington, Garcia, Rose, Mcdowell, Donald, Casey, Stenson and Westwood have all reached the twilight of their careers and while some of them are as good as ever, the European Tour does need some new blood to replace the golden Ryder Cup generation. It needs big names that are capable of lining the fairways and greens of Europe (and Asia!) with spectators all desperate to catch a glimpse of their favourite player.

Shipnuck was wrong to dismiss this new batch of ET players in such a way though, in fact 2018 on the European Tour appears to be a very exciting time. In Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Alex Noren, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and hopefully Jon Rahm, the Tour has some of the most promising talent in golf but not only that, they are fully pledged members of the European Tour willing to back it at every opportunity. Throw in the world-class talent of Rose, Garcia, Stenson and McIlroy, who will all play their quota of tournaments, and the following year could be a very special one, hopefully ending in a home win at Le Golf National in September. Perhaps more importantly for all us punters though, it should produce tournaments that offer intriguing betting opportunities. The combination of ageing talent together with still unexposed youth is one that will surely leave the door open to value. That is even before we consider one of the most talented batches of Challenge Tour graduates we have seen for some time.

So it’s with much anticipation that I write my first article for The Golf Family. I struggled a little last year on both Tours in what I thought was a difficult year for golf betting. But the optimism that a new year brings coupled with the wonderful smorgasboard of golfers on show has lifted expectations ahead of 2018.

Unfortunately after all that build up the Tour has to start somewhere and it’s with a very mediocre field in South Africa at Glendower Golf Club, Johannesburg. It is hosting the South Africa Open for the 5th time in a row so there should certainly be some recent clues around to help.

Glendower was designed by Charles Hugh Allison who worked alongside two of the most famous names in early golf course design; Harry Colt (Wentworth, Sunningdale, Hoylake, Muirfield) and Alistair Mackenzie (Augusta National, Royal Melbourne and Cypress Point). Not bad company to be keeping and their influence is very evident at Glendower. It is a fairly tight, parkland course that more than resembles Wentworth and Augusta. At 7564 yards long it is somewhat of a brute and the set of par 4s can be very demanding. Players who have gone well on similarly tree-lined courses should be respected here.

The four winners themselves don’t give us too many clues as they each went about their work differently but the one constant was their putting. The last three winners ranked 1st, 4th and 2nd in total putting. It is always worth reminding punters of the grainy nature of the greens in South Africa and some players really struggle to read them. More than anything though the winners didn’t do anything badly and I think that will be more important than any one attribute this week. Anyone who can keep mistakes to a minimum and string four decent rounds together will surely be involved in the shake up on Sunday.

For a long period these tournaments were dominated by the star local names and while that hasn’t quite been the case of late, I don’t think there is any fundamental reason for that change. Charl Schwartzel losing the ability to lap these fields would certainly account for a couple of the more surprise names but moreover due to the nuances involved on South African courses I would expect them to maintain their stranglehold over time (not to mention the fact that half the field are South Africans!). The one downside for the home contingent is this particular Tournament as we have seen the pressure get the better of plenty when trying to win their national Open.

But this year I still very much like the chances of two relatively young South Africans who took their games to new levels in 2017 by winning on the European Tour. If performing to that standard again here they shouldn’t be phased by the title.

Dean Burmester is perhaps one of the most powerful players on the European Tour but yet so far in his career he has shown a liking for playing on tight, tree-lined courses. His win last year was at Pretoria Country Club and he recorded several good results on similar courses in 2017. Most notably he was 9th at Wentworth but he also finished the season strongly with a 4th at the DP World Championship. Burmester also performed well in 2017 in some key areas as he finished the season ranked 21st in birdie average and 28th in total putting for the last 6 months.

The Zimbabwe born bomber also has some trending course form to back up his suitability as he finished 10th in 2016 and 4th last year where he was only beaten by an inspired Graeme Storm, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Smith. I expect another strong showing from Burmester as he arrives this time as a European Tour winner.

Dylan Frittelli
was probably even more impressive last year as he managed two wins on Tour, one of them on mainland Europe. Frittelli’s potential has long been touted so it hasn’t gone unnoticed how well he played last year. That is why I’m surprised that we can still get 20/1 about him this week. Frittelli’s strength has always been a brilliant iron game but last year he started to back that up with a little more assurance on and around the greens. He is still by no means a great putter but he found a way to stop it from holding him back in 2017. One of those was just to take the putter out of the equation completely as he chipped in 3 times during his final round at the Turkish Airlines Open. This short game improvement combined with the huge amount of confidence he now has will make him a massive threat in these co-sanctioned events. His course form isn’t brilliant but he does have an 18th sandwiched between two missed cuts. The course should certainly suit a player who relishes long par 4s and he ranked 3rd on Tour over the last 6 months for Par 4 scoring. Frittelli also finished 2017 ranked 31st for greens in regulation so if the short game continues to hold up then this Johannesburg native can flourish in his home city.

There will be some that look at their prices and baulk but given they are both still in their 20s it’s perfectly feasible that they are still capable of considerable improvement. I think that gives us a little leeway with their price, certainly on a week like this where they are in their homeland. I would far rather be backing them at their prices than some of the players a little further down the betting who are talented but fully exposed.

I was keen to just go with the two players, expecting a run from at least one of them, but then I saw the price for last year’s champion Graeme Storm. We all know he is a player that has struggled to get over the line in his career but it shouldn’t be taken lightly that he got the better of Rory McIlroy in play-off last year. There aren’t too many on Tour that can make that claim. Despite a few mixed results, Storm also finished his year rather strongly with a 10th place at the Nedbank in SA and I really can’t believe there is 80/1 about him here, even the 66s is far too big and I’d have made him more like 45/1. He is a classic horses for courses type and while defending his title will be tough there is just no way he should be that big a price in this field. Lets add him into the mix and take a very solid looking three pronged attack into the first tournament of 2018.

Dean Burmester 1.5pts ew at 25/1 (1/4 odds 1-5 with Skybet)

Dylan Frittelli 1.5pts ew at 20/1 (1/4 odds 1-5 with Skybet)

Graeme Storm 0.5pt ew @ 80/1 (1/4 odds 1-5 with Stan James)