The European Tour finished its spell in the Middle East last week with Scotsman Stephen Gallagher picking up only his 2nd European Tour title in 404 events. He is the 2nd man from Scotland to win on the tour this year following Scott Jamieson’s win at the Nelson Mandela Championship.
This week sees the tour head to South Africa for the Joburg Open, a co-sanctioned event with the Sunshine Tour. South Africa of late have been dominating the golfing headlines with Grace, Schwartzel and Coetzee all playing superb golf over the previous months, not to mention current Open Champion and legend Ernie Els.
The opening two rounds are played on the East and West courses at the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club and then the final two rounds will be on the longer par 71 East course, weighing in at 7,592 yards. Naturally this makes the big hitters more suited to this course and why the bookies fancy the long hitting Charl Schwartzel. But as long as you can hit the ball a good length and use your irons well around here, you will always be able to challenge.
The betting has been heavily in favour of the big three with Schwartzel, Grace and Coetzee all at single figure odds and rightly so. Paddy Power currently has Charl Schwartzel at 3/1 meaning large stakes are needed to gain any sort of profit. And a missed cut last year from him personally puts us off him. You would have to be a very optimistic person to think one of these three will not win it this week though. But we do have a few names to throw at you who we think could upset the applecart this week.
Branden Grace (8/1 Paddy Power)
As we have said, it is very likely one of the three names at the top of the betting will take the crown this week. So it is only right that we pick one of the big three and we think Grace is the man. This is where it all began for him last year as he took the Joburg title just weeks after coming from Qualifying School. He then went on to have a stunning year winning another 3 titles on the European Tour becoming one of the more recognised golfers on the tour. Of course it helps being in his native South Africa and he will feel well at home after a few weeks in the Middle East. Grace has had a really consistent start to the 2013 season with a T7 at the Volvo Golf Champions, 5th in Abu Dhabi and a T6 two weeks ago at the Qatar Masters. With the South African being reigning champion here at the Joburg he wants to match what Charl Schwartzel did the previous year and retain this prestigious Joburg trophy. Grace is also ranked 16th in one-putts this year, with just Garcia and Molinari being the only golfers of note above him, both of whom have not travelled to South Africa this week. With the 2012 title already in his back pocket and his putter working well, we can see Branden Grace walking away with his first title of the year this week.
Richard Sterne (16/1 Paddy Power)
Sterne caught our eye last week after leading the Dubai Desert Classic for the first two days and was desperately unlucky not to pick up the title. But for some fortunate play and an outstanding chip in from 110yards on the par 4 from eventual winner Stephen Gallagher for eagle, the title would have been Sterne’s. On the tour this year the South African is 3rd in stroke average, only being beaten by Lee Westwood (who has only played 1 tournament this year) and this week’s favourite Charl Schwartzel. His course form here is not too shabby at all as he picked up the Joburg title back in ’08. He has had two more top 20 finishes here and although his form here has dipped the last two years, his overall game at the moment seems to be right on the button and his T2 last week shows that. Again being in his native country will help him out no end, with friends and family turning out in support.
Steve Webster (28/1 Paddy Power)
Steve Webster is playing some of the golf of his career right now and we thought it was only right to get on him and back him while he is hot. He currently lies 7th in the Race to Dubai standings, showing his current form. He has had arguably the best start to the European Tour this year without actually picking up a title. T7 at the Alfred Dunhill and then his previous three tournaments boast a T32, a T4 and most recently a T7 last week in Dubai. Statistically, he is also dominating proceedings as he is 1st in GIR on the tour this year and pair that with his 8th position in stroke average, we’re finding it hard not to back this lad! His most recent appearance in South Africa came at the Nelson Mandela Championship where he finished T2, another impressive statistic. One negative for Webster is that he has never appeared at the Joburg before but the way he is playing at the moment, he could shoot a low score on any course he played on! A fun fact about Steve Webster is that he beat Tiger Woods to the silver medal for amateurs at the 1995 Open Championship on St Andrews with a T24 finish. Interesting.
Danny Willett (28/1 Paddy Power)
Danny is player we like a lot at DownThe18th, after backing him a few times last year and also backing him last week for the Dubai Desert Classic. We’re very attracted to the Englishman this week because of his track record in South Africa. In this tournament alone he finished 4th consecutively in ’09 and ’10 and followed those up with a very respectable 33rd in ’11 and 14th last year. He also finished 7th last year at the African Open in South Africa. His rise to prominence came last year as he took the BMW International Open title in a tense play off with Australian Marcus Fraser. It showed he has what it takes to win a tournament and also shows he can hit very low scores, something that is to be needed if he is to challenge here. Danny has started the year nicely with a T5 at the Volvo Golf Champions and a T23 in Abu Dhabi. He missed the cut last week in Dubai but we feel he will be even fresher as a result and as Chris Wood proved a few weeks back, missing a cut the week before means absolutely nothing in the early part of the season.
Jamie Elson (100/1 Paddy Power)
This week’s outsider comes in the shape of Jamie Elson. We are picking this guy purely on course form. His career statistics and recent form do not fly off the page at you, hence his odds, but we will say this… He absolutely loves it around this course! If there is one course in the world where Elson plays his best stuff, it is right here. Elson shot fabulous 63’s in both his first and last rounds here last year. A poor second day 75 meant he eventually finished 2nd 1 shot behind the man of the moment Branden Grace. In his two other appearances at the course, the Brit finished 30th in 2010 and 4th in 2011, so the progression is there for all to see. Hopefully this year he will go one better.