By Lewis Pacelli
Last week at the Johannesburg Open we finally opened the cork to our ageing lemoncello, in celebration of DownThe 18th’s first winner of the season in the form of Richard Sterne. And with the bitterness still prolonged in our taste buds, we watched a phenomenal last day effort from Jimmy Walker to get us a place at the AT&T Pebble Beach. (Even with the appalling decision to use an iron off the par 5 18th tee)
Now onto the next leg in South Africa, for the African Open.
It would be a romantic touch to continue sipping our liquor in the week of Valentines Day…
It is not the most exciting of fields in the Eastern Cape, with world number 120 Thomas Aiken at a staggering 9/1, making him the favourite this week. Compatriots Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have shared the title in the 3 previous events and due to the huge WGC Match Play next week, the South Africans and many big names are taking a break from action. Garth Mulroy and Zaco Van Zyl have also found themselves at very low odds (14s) and are theoretically ‘untouchable’. Even though both players do have a case, it simply does not feel right to select them at such terrible odds.
As for the course, it is at the East London Golf Club and lies along the coast, giving it a sense of links style golf on the front 9 and parkland style across the back 9. At a par 73, 6700-yard course, it is one of the shortest on the European Tour and there a 4 par 5’s all at a very reachable distance. With 3 par 4’s at a very low 300 yards, there is also the potential of reaching the green in 1 due to hard ground after weeks of sunny weather. There is expected to be slight wind and rain across the four days, however we cannot see it harming play too much.
However, due to the relatively long rough, accuracy will be important off the tee and GIR will certainly be crucial, due to the varying nature of the course. If a big-hitter is driving straight, they will absolutely storm the tournament. IF.
Trevor Fisher Jnr (33/1 PaddyPower)
Trevor Fisher had a fantastic first 3 days last week in Joburg, however the fall from grace on the last day could be considered by that term no golfer wants to hear. “Bottlejob”. It may be unfair to throw the word at the South African, as he still finished a respectable T6, yet the contrast between his early form and final day was cataclysmic. So, the question then gets asked, why back him this week?
Firstly, it is those 25 birdies and 2 eagles in the first 3 rounds, which excited us. He attacked the pin at every opportunity and if he does the same this week, a challenge is seriously possible.
Secondly, excluding the missed cut at The Alfred Dunhill Championship, his end of year Tour form was very admirable. T21, T31 and a T13 at the South African Open shows his progress in tougher events. When you bear in mind that last year he came 6th at the Joburg Open, form in his homeland is quite exceptional. Four tournaments in a row have warranted a place no lower than 21st and that is exciting. Yes, he missed the cut here on his last outing, however with 3 top 26’s in a row previous to that, including a T4 in 2010, course history certainly edges in his favour. His statistics match up to what is needed this week; lying 10th in driving accuracy, 9th in GIR and 2nd for putts per GIR.
We will reiterate once more, 33/1 in a poor field. Surely worth a dabble?
Magnus A Carlsson (28/1 PaddyPower)
The Swede, like Fisher, comes at high prices when you consider the field here this week. You may argue that this is his maiden appearance in 2013, however a solid end to 2012, shows he is in good nick. T18 at The Alfred Dunhill, with a T6 at the South African Open in November proves the point, whilst also reassuringly, shows he has experience in this part of the world. If it weren’t for a shocking +3 final day, Carlsson would certainly have been in contention, having been paired in the final two on the Sunday. His form here meanwhile, is respectable, having come 10th last year before a missed cut in 2011 and T43 in 2010.
With all this digested, it is the attributes of the Scandinavian which really strike us. His accuracy off the tee can be left a little desired at times, however lying in 2nd for distance is very encouraging. He was averaging 270 yards last year, yet he has begun the season hitting the ball over 305 yards. (If he hits it as far as he can, 2 par 4’s could be reached in 1!) Whilst being renowned for his iron play – 2nd this year and 5th last year in GIR. If his putting gets going then the challenge will be on and he is currently14th for putts per GIR and was 42nd last year…See you at the bookies.
Adilson Da Silva (66/1 PaddyPower)
Da Silva has cropped up a few times in the past, showing some real talent on a day or two, before suffering in one round and dropping out of contention. Again, like Fisher, you may ask, why select him and all we can say is: the stats don’t lie. (We hope) Accuracy from tee to green will be an important component and he currently lies in 3rd for driving and 8th for GIR. Add that to 1st for driving and 16th for GIR last season, you have a player with an acute talent. His putter, just like a certain Westwood, usually lets him down, but you got to have faith in the Brazilian to sink a putt or two sometime. And this could be that perfect tournament. T25 last week in Johannesburg, showed signs of improvement with a final round 67, whilst he has gradually placed higher here, with a missed cut in 2010, T26 the year after and T18 last season. Lets hope he can go even higher this time out!
Maximilian Kieffer (50/1 PaddyPower)
One of our ‘players to watch’ from the beginning of the season, Kieffer has started showing the signs that he will have a big future in the game. Of all the tour graduates, he has acclimatised to the step up in grade the quickest, with respectable finishes in his debut season. T29 last week, after an opening round 63, showed us how capable he really is. He was hitting over 70% of the greens from the fairway in Joburg and there is evidence his tee to green abilities are a real asset. 22nd in driving accuracy, 45th in driving distance (which is certainly an interesting stat, given the par 4 and 5s) and 26th in GIR. Yet, like so many professional and amateur golfers, if he can get his putter going, there will be a chance of a e/w come the weekend.
Tjaart Van Der Walt (40/1 PaddyPower)
Our final pick this week comes in the shape of another South African, Tjaart Van Der Walt. His form recently isn’t startling, but a T38 last week was certainly encouraging. 3 rounds in the 60s showed signs of improvement and this is only his 2nd outing in 2013, yet the tournament is in his home country, so he will be in comfortable surroundings. The main reason we got interested by Tjaart (what a name by the way…) was his superb 2nd last year behind a cavaliering Oosthuizen. Whilst before that a T26 and in 2010 a T43, there is progress up the leaderboard. That leaves only one position left to improve on…He is also in 6th for driving accuracy and 12th in GIR, so the attributes are in place to mount a challenge. Due to a weaker field than last year, Van Der Walt will feel confident he can go one better.
This weeks double features a certain Keegan Bradley and Trevor Fisher. Both have great e/w shouts and at the price of 1058/1, you cannot help but get involved. Here at DownThe18th we will promise you one thing. In 2013, we will win a double and the first round will be on you.