The South African Open Championship, 08 January- 11 January, Glendower Golf Club
On Thursday the European Tour tees off again at Glendower Golf Club in Ekurhuleni and a fairly weak field has assembled to participate this time around. Traditionally the tournament has been held in December so this marks a slight change in the calendar but that should make little difference to the conditions encountered this week. The course is a relatively straightforward one and the 7,564 yard Par 72 will not prove much of a challenge for the more accomplished golfers in the field. That does not mean it is not without its challenges though as the fairways are narrow and lined with thick rough which threatens to punish wayward tee shots. The course is also littered with bunkers, there are 64 which come into play across the 18 holes, and water comes into play on more than half of the holes. This means accuracy off the tee will be the name of the game but once on the fairway things will be relatively simple as the greens are soft at the moment due to the amount of rain encountered by the region over the past few days.
Ernie Els has been given the honour of hosting the tournament this time around and his presence will certainly bolster the interest of golf fans but the Big Easy isn’t in great form at the moment and should be avoided. Charl Schwartzel currently leads the betting and although he’d love to walk away with the title I can’t back him at 6/1. So who are the players to keep an eye on this week? Let’s have a look.
To Win Outright
Charl Schwartzel 6/1
Branden Grace 8/1
Ernie Els 16/1
George Coetzee 16/1
JBE Kruger 20/1
(40/1 a win, 88/10 a place)
A cursory glance at the betting shows Darren Fichardt available at 40/1 and based on that price alone the talented local is worth backing each way. He didn’t shoot the lights out here last year when he finished just inside the Top 40 but he has won on this track before and with the greens the way they are at the moment he should come out firing. Fichardt is well known as one of the better putters in the field and if he can keep the ball on the fairway he’ll make a lot of birdies.
Hennie Otto (22/1 a win, 48/10 a place)
Hennie Otto won the SA Open in 2011, albeit not on this course, and nearly repeated that last year where he let himself down on the back nine on Sunday to finish a solid 2nd. That performance proved that he has the game to perform on this course as he is deadly accurate off the tee and an accomplished putter. There are very few concerns surrounding Otto this week and if he comes here in the right frame of mind he should go close. Each way is the bet for me.
Thomas Aiken (25/1 a win, 11/2 a place)
In February last year Thomas Aiken won the third tournament of his career when a flawless birdie on the first playoff hole at the Africa Open saw him edge out Englishman Oliver Fisher and keep the title in South African hands for yet another year. There he showed that he has the temperament to handle the pressure encountered on Sunday and that combined with his current form makes him a good prospect this week. A 4thplace finish in Cape Town was followed by a 16th at the Alfred Dunhill where he faced stiffer competition and this week he looks a decent prospect against a weak field. Each way here is the bet for me.
Branden Grace (8/1 a win, 18/10 a place)
When it comes to playing in South Africa there is no-one who looks more confident than Branden Grace. This talented golfer simply loves playing at home and has won here five times in his career and despite the fact that he’s had a month off from golf over the Christmas period he looks like the man to beat this week. He ended last season as well as he could have hoped to when he won the Alfred Dunhill and prior to that seemed to be striking the ball well in Dubai. It’s not often that he finishes outside the Top 25 and against a field like this should go far.