Victor Dubuisson flew the Tour’s flag with pride last week at the WGC Matchplay, getting all the way to the final before courageously losing to Jason Day and proving that some of the young talent outside America have bundles of potential for the future.
Now, we resume European Tour duties in South Africa for the final time with the Tshwane Open at one of Ernie Els’ courses – Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate.
The course is one of those that would scare the life out of most amateurs because it is one of the longest on tour – 7,964 yards. Yes 7,964 yards. It is an absolute monster with all 4 par 5’s over 600 yards and 3 par 4’s over 500. It’s not one for the faint hearted and you instantly think that the bombers will run free here and you can completely understand that reasoning.
Especially when you factor in that the fairways are incredibly wide, with little protection to shanks and slices, in fact ranging from 20-60m before the rough begins either side.
However the thicker cut can be torrid to escape from, with 90mm of rough expected. At the end of the day though, if you are finding this stuff, you have hit an APPALING drive, so you can still keep in mind the more erratic of drivers.
There are 112 bunkers dotted around the track with eight lakes and a few undulations, still meaning that the ball strikers should prevail come Sunday. The greens have also read very slow (around 10 on the stimpmeter) so putting will not even be hugely difficult, making it generally a potential birdie fest if the weather holds.
It does have the feel of a links course because of the Big Easy’s love of Scottish traditional seaside tracks, but there will be nowhere near as much heartache compared to those windy places north of the English border.
The field assembled is obviously filled with South Africans, both from the Sunshine and European Tours. George Coetzee rightfully heads up the betting after his scintillating few weeks, but 13/2 is beyond criminal.
We have looked long and hard at the sort of golfers who should do well here and we certainly believe there is value to be had.
Darren Fichardt (22/1 various)
We did take a re-think once the odds came out for Darren Fichardt because low 20’s/teens is not the healthiest by any means, however there was just too much going for him not to put our money down.
The South African has looked and played the part in recent weeks, running into some superb form – T10, T16, T13, MC, T5 and this sort of consistency will give him plenty of confidence coming into the final tournament in his home country.
Two weeks ago at the Africa Open, he was incredibly unlucky to finish in 5th, just 2 shots behind winner Thomas Aiken and playoff loser Oliver Fisher because he genuinely looked like one of the closest challengers with 4 very good rounds.
He was also hitting the ball a long, long way, which is generally something he is not known for, finding himself inside the top 10 for distance each day, whilst his putting on the final day showed his natural talent on the greens – 8th putts per round in 2014.
If he can get his irons going, then there is no reason the local lad shouldn’t win here, because it is a course he has shown liking to – 2nd last year and he suits the pace of the greens. Don’t be put off by the odds, this guy is the real deal.
Morten Ørum Madsen (33/1 various)
The young Dane has been on our radar for a very long time now as regular readers will know. Firstly, hailing from the same course as Scandinavian legend Thomas Björn will hold most in good stead and his rise to the top of European golf has been dramatic but consistent.
Admittedly, his form has wavered slightly since his first win a few months ago at the South Africa Open, but a T6 last week at a Sunshine Tour event gave us the green light to think he is back in the swing of it.
Plus, this is a tournament where he finished T8 at last year, during his debut year on Tour and he is a different animal nowadays – more experienced and still bubbling with youthful exuberance and confidence.
It certainly helps that he batters a ball himself – 27th in driving distance and is very good on the greens – 34th putts per round.
He is one of those players that could upset the South African dominance of these home events and he does love going on a roll finding birdies, so it seems highly sensible to get involved.
Lucas Bjeregaard (50/1 various)
Another young Dane has found our list and he couldn’t suit this course more. He hits the ball an incredible distance (4th in driving distance) and his recent form is very encouraging considering he is still theoretically on the Challenge Tour.
T9 at the Africa Open a couple of weeks back, where he regularly hit the ball over 300 yards and was inside the top 15 for putts per round every day, which is encouraging.
With the fact he is also 59th for GIR during the season, you do realise that he could be the perfect fit for this monstrous course.
He also played in a Sunshine Tour event last week, staying in Africa because of the tournament this week and he finished T2. In other words this lad is in fine fettle and could really upset the South African applecart.
JBE Kruger (80/1 StanJames)
JBE Kruger is another local who has won on the European Tour (the 2012 Avantha Masters) and could definitely challenge the bigger names here.
He hits the ball far (40th in driving distance), solid with his irons (41st GIR) and has been plugging away recently without really excelling.
Three made cuts, all inside the top 31 show that he has been OK, but his fluidity has impressed us with his irons. He never left the top 10 for GIR at the Africa Open, but his putting did let him down.
He will now be coming into a tournament where he finished T27 last year, but it is imperitave he gets his putter going.
Justin Walters (66/1 StanJames)
Our third South African may be lowest on this list but he is by no means a slouch in terms of our hope.
He impressed everyone at the Joburg Open where he finished T2, he perhaps should have won, but his tee to green prowess made us think he could challenge once again here.
He went on to finish inside the top 30 in his next two tournaments and that is still consistent form for someone who finished T16 on this track last year.
He is another one who averages over 300 yards (45th driving distance) and his irons looked in good shape at the Africa Open, finishing inside the top 10 daily.
Another intriguing prospect.
Gaganjeet Bhullar (150/1 StanJames) and James Heath (500/1 StanJames)
Quick mention for these two outsiders because their odds and prospective abilities have made us drool at the lips.
Bhullar has proven his capabilities on the European Tour with 3 top 10s in the past year and considering he hits the ball miles (29th driving distance and top of the same stat for 2 days at the Africa Open), never left the top 20 for GIR at the Africa Open and is an all-rounded golfer, 150s is certainly worth a punt.
As for James Heath, his odds are probably warranted considering his recent form but this lad really hits the ball. He is 2nd for driving distance, averaging it 311 yards off the tee, which is absolutely ludicrous. When you consider he is 67th for GIR, you do realise that his putting is awful, but why wouldn’t you take a plunge at such astonishing odds?!