Joburg Open Betting Tips: Four Each-Way picks in South Africa
A star-studded week in Dubai last week in the season ending DP World Tour Championship resulted in the two most starry players taking away the two titles. Jon Rahm was too much for the field to handle in picking up his third victory in the tournament itself, whilst Rory McIlroy added the Race to Dubai title to the FedEx Cup title he won in the states a couple of months back; becoming only the second player – following Henrik Stenson in 2013 – to complete the feat of winning both money lists on each side of the Atlantic, establishing himself firmly as the best player on the planet right now in the process.
No sooner have we said goodbye to the previous season than the next one begins. We kick off the 2022/23 DP World Tour season with back-to-back double headers in South Africa/Australia, before heading to Leopard Creek for the Alfred Dunhill in the penultimate event on the DPWT calendar in 2022 and finishing with the Mauritius Open.
This week we’re going to focus solely on the South African leg of this week’s double header: the Joburg Open at Houghton Golf Club, a tournament co-sanctioned between the DP World Tour and the premier tour in South Africa, the Sunshine Tour; a status it’s maintained since the inaugural edition in 2007.
Up until December 2017, this event was held every year from 2007 to February 2017 across both Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, before moving to Randpark Golf Club in 2018, with the Jack Nicklaus designed Houghton Golf Club stepping in to host the event for the first time in its history this year.
Thriston Lawrence won his first DPWT title in this event last year in rather fortunate circumstances, being crowned the winner after holding the 36-hole lead; the final two rounds cancelled because of the changing covid-19 restrictions. Other top South Africans: Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, George Coetzee and Richard Sterne amongst the home players to lift the trophy.
The first events of a new season are always interesting despite the general lack of strength in depth, as we see a whole host of new players – amongst some more familiar returning ones - for the first time on tour; those who’ve qualified either through the Challenge Tour money list last season or gained their card via Q-School last week, with another strong home contingent thrown in for added measure; looking to add their name to that illustrious group of South African winners.
Houghton Golf Club has a storied history of golf in South Africa; originally opening in the 1920s, the course has played host to eight South African Opens and was the first home of the Alfred Dunhill Championship – now played at Leopard Creek – from 2000 to late 2004.
Since then the course has gone through renovations at the hands of Jack Nicklaus, with particular attention paid to adding more strategically placed bunkers off the tee and the recontouring of the greens; designed to keep the modern golfer at bay.
This tree-lined course appears quite tight on the front nine, though there are plenty of generous landing areas and it opens up more on the back nine, however there are many holes where trees impede your line-of-sight into the predominantly large and undulating greens, so hitting the right side of the fairways off the tee looks important.
Bunkers are a big feature, not just those strategically placed aside the fairways but for protection around many of the greens; with water in-play on seven holes adding further penalty to the golf course.
It is worth noting that there are contrasting scorecards listed for the event between the DP World Tour and Sunshine Tour. My inclination is to count on the one listed by the Sunshine Tour, as it is more in-keeping with the events we’ve seen at this course over recent years: the Sunshine Tour Q School in 2019/2020 and events on the Big Easy Tour – the development tour in South Africa – over the last ten years, which includes an event that was played earlier this year all carrying the same scorecard as that which is listed by the Sunshine Tour this week; a par 72 measuring 7279 yards, though will play shorter due to altitude.
Winning scores over those more recent events paint a mixed picture, the 2019 Q School played tricky, with a score of -14 enough to finish atop the leaderboard; though a year later, -19 was the leading score at Q-School around this venue. This varying difficulty on show on the Big Easy Tour too, with a tough -6 enough to claim a victory at Houghton earlier this year in a 54-hole event, whilst in 2017, in an event over just 36-holes, -9 was the winning score. All pointing to the difficulty of this course being dependent on conditions.
This makes plenty of sense as the par 5s should be in reach for most, especially when taking into account that thinner air, whilst the par 4s look predominantly scorable; the 500+ yard second hole the longest and most challenging par 4, with most others attackable, including four below 400 yards. The par 3s too looking gettable, with three of the four below 200 yards and into some of the largest greens on the course, though three of them are protected by water sitting tight to the putting surfaces.
We have nothing in the way of stats to go off for how this will play and with stats not being available on many of these players, especially those who have earned their way onto the tour via the Challenge Tour/Q School, there may be a level of guesswork involved this week; however I do think strong drivers will thrive and those who combine with length may well have the advantage. The generosity of many fairways, particularly those on the back 9, though with danger still lurking for errant shots certainly playing into the hands of such players.
This very much describes Tristen Strydom, who has finished 1st and 3rd here in those 2020 and 2019 Q-School events, a player who possesses plenty of power and in a handful of starts on the DPWT has looked at his best with driver in hand.
The course should be receptive this week with plenty of rain in the forecast, hence strong iron play should also be key – it is now essentially a Jack Nicklaus course after all – with the potential for some strong, gusty winds, particularly over the weekend, may well call your scrambling skills into action.
Key Stats: SG: Off-the-Tee, Driving Distance, SG: Approach
Secondary Stats: Greens-in-Regulation, Scrambling,
It’s difficult to be hugely confident in correlating courses to one that hasn’t been seen on tour since 2004 and having undergone heavy renovations since.
Form in South Africa, particularly in Joburg or anywhere else at altitude should be a huge plus, whilst it also makes sense to look at those who may have excelled on other Nicklaus designs such as Mount Juliet, which hosts the Irish Open and London Golf Club, which hosted the Cazoo Classic last year.
In addition I think with the tree-lined nature but generous fairways along with that test of playing at altitude, there’s a bit of Crans-sur-Sierre about it, home of the Omega European Masters; similar sentiments attached to Karen Country Club, minus the altitude, one of the hosts of the Kenya Open.
The weather should be a factor this week, as if often the case in South Africa. There is rain forecast prior to the start of the event and returning over the weekend - along with thunderstorms - which would bring about plenty of stoppages. Hopefully that doesn’t occur and we get an interrupted event.
Aside from that the wind will generally be pretty mild over the week though strong gusts are forecast which would cause problems, potentially getting worse over the weekend when those thunderstorms are forecast to arrive.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout is the standout player in the field this week at #74 in the world, joined by last year’s winner Thriston Lawrence, who has gone from strength to strength on the DP World Tour this year after that fortunate win in this event last year.
There may not be a huge amount of strength in depth but this makes the field no less fascinating. Fourteen of the twenty Challenge Tour graduates last season tee it up, headed by the player who ranked 1st on the Race to Mallorca standings Nathan Kimsey, with #2 in those rankings, Switzerland’s Jeremy Freiburghaus also playing here.
They are joined twelve players who earned their DPWT cards at last week’s Q-School final, including the top three finishers there: Sweden’s Simon Forsstrom, France’s David Ravetto and England’s Daniel Brown; whilst Marcel Siem – one of those to win their card last week – returns to the scene of his first DPWT title, having won the Alfred Dunhill Championship here in 2004.
Further to this there is still a qualifying event to be played in South Africa for those lower ranked players to earn a way into this week’s field, though with few players there who would appeal this week, I’m happy to go ahead with the field as it is.
Joburg Open Tips
This is an interesting week but one with so many unknowns, not just from the course but with a huge amount of players of whom we’re yet to see what they’re all about and where their strengths lie. With this I’m going to keep selections light, focusing mainly on those players who we do know and taking into account these co-sanctioned events so often go the way of the strongest home players, there’s no-one up there near the top of the betting that appeals to me more this week than last year’s winner, Thriston Lawrence.
The big South African would’ve started the year feeling he had a point to prove on the DPWT last year after the circumstances of his win in this event in 2021 and he has proven himself in spades.
Signs were hugely encouraging at the start of the year, as an excellent 2nd place finish for Lawrence in the Kenya Open set off a strong sequence of results; top 10s in the South African double-header in the MyGolfLife Open and Steyn City Championship soon followed and barring the odd poor week he has maintained his form throughout the year.
A 3rd place finish in the Irish Open at the Jack Nicklaus designed Mount Juliet was another incredibly eye-catching performance, as were solid finishes of 24th in a high-class field in the Scottish Open and 42nd place finish in his first major championship appearance at St Andrews in The Open. All these no doubt exceeded by him claiming his first title outside of South Africa in the Swiss Alps at the Omega European Masters; a win validating his place on tour, if that win in last year’s Joburg Open left any doubts in his mind.
Lawrence ended last season strongly, finishing 6th at Valderrama and then 13th in the Nedbank Challenge two weeks ago; an underwhelming 41st place finish in last week’s DPWT Championship is more than forgivable.
Strong ball-striking is what his game is all about, ranking 19th on tour last season off-the-tee, where he doesn’t lack for power, 26th in GIR and 27th in approach, complimenting this high level of ball-striking with a nice touch on the greens, ranking 51st last season; though will need to bounce back from a little slump with the flat-stick, which was still evidenced last week.
With some interesting form in the bag in relation to this test – his win at Crans and 3rd in Ireland – if this talented South African can regain form with the putter, I suspect he will take all the beating this week.
Despite losing his full playing rights on the DPWT - thanks to the double whammy of both narrowly missing the out on the official money list and then at Q-School - Renato Paratore was showing consistently strong form at the end of last season and this week can take advantage of one of many starts he’s still bound to get on the main tour this season.
Paratore actually showed strong form throughout pretty much the entirety of the second half of the season. He turned his year around with a 3rd place finish in the Wales Open at the beginning of August, then finishing 4th in the ISPS Handa World Invitational and 13th in the Czech Masters.
He hit a bit of a wall over his next five starts but rediscovered his form in the final four events of his season, signing off with form figures of 13-32-23-18.
As has been the case throughout much of his career, it’s the short-game that fires him; this on show last season as he ranked 3rd around-the-greens, 8th in putting and 23rd in scrambling. Though the season stats in ball-striking areas look poor, they have improved significantly over this second half of the season, where he’s been losing far less strokes in both approach and off-the-tee, also finding more fairways; he would need to improve slightly in these areas again to get one over the line but he has shown an ability in the past to tame his more wayward ball-striking on this type of setup.
For all that inaccuracy, Paratore has put together a strong book of form in the European Masters, with finishes of 7th, 7th and 12th his best efforts; also no stranger to going well in South Africa, a 7th in the 2018 South African Open his standout performance.
The Italian is a proven winner having collected two DPWT titles – the Nordea Masters in 2017 and British Masters in 2020 – in a field in which many are unproven at DPWT level, he looks a good shout to make up for those narrow misses on the money list/Q-School and stamp himself as a full DPWT member again this week.
JC Ritchie has won eight times in South Africa since 2017, coming into this week showing some good form in the last six weeks, he can finally get one over the line on the DPWT.
We saw his prowess at home earlier in the year when he won two events back-to-back that are co-sanctioned between the Sunshine Tour and Challenge Tour, shooting a combined 44-under across the two weeks and winning the second event – the Jonsson Workwear Open – with a six stroke demolition. Both wins contributing massively to him finishing 4th on the Race to Mallorca to earn his full playing rights on the DPWT this season.
He spent much of the rest of the season splitting his time between the DPWT and Challenge Tour, with an 8th in the British Masters his best when stepping up to the main circuit and ended the Challenge Tour season showing strong form; a 2nd in the British Challenge just four starts ago showing where his game is at.
It’s hard to get a proper handle on what Ritchie is about as he hasn’t experienced a full season on the DPWT yet; the driver looks to be his biggest weapon, where he isn’t short of power, however his best performance on the tour this year in the British Masters was engineered by a quality approach performance.
A combination of the two would make him a real danger this week and possessing strong performances in similar co-sanctioned events in the past - three top 6s in the South African Open - Ritchie certainly has enough about him to get one of these over the line this week.
There are so many players of interest at huge prices here: leading Q-School player Simon Forsstrom had been showing strong form before that field-leading performance, so looks in a good place to go well here, whilst Tristen Strydom is a talented youngster who as mentioned, has some good form figures here in the Q-School events.
Many more are considered but I’m going to sign off with Germany’s Freddy Scott. He’s won twice as a professional in around 18-months, first winning on the ProGolfTour in 2021 and then followed up on that with a win on the Challenge Tour earlier this year – the culmination of a superb run of form. With him being more than comfortable playing golf in South Africa, indeed it’s here where he had his first pro starts, this looks the ideal place for him to return to the kind of form that took him to that victory earlier this year.
In those starts in South Africa last year, Schott recorded 7th and 10th place finishes in the Cape Town Open and Data Dimension Pro-am respectively. He then spent the rest of last year in Europe, largely struggling besides that win on the PGT.
He kicked off 2022 back in South Africa, finishing 3rd in the Vodacom Origins Final and a few starts later recorded another top 5 in the SDC Open. He returned to Europe, finishing a solid 51st in the European Open on the DPWT, a performance that showed where his biggest asset lies - with the driver - ranking 12th and possessing a huge amount of power, ranking 3rd in driving distance.
Two weeks later he started a sequence of impressive results on the Challenge Tour, which reads 4-4-5-16-3-14-9-1, with that first Challenge Tour victory coming in Denmark in the Frederikshavn Challenge.
This all but secured his place on the DPWT this season; even with a poor run of results following that, where he missed four of his next seven cuts, he still finished 9th on the Race to Mallorca standings, with the top 20 gaining their tour cards.
I think that poor run can be put down to a case of it being job done and taking his foot off the gas; now with everything once again to play for, this talented, big-hitting German – who has won at both levels he’s played at so far – can make a name for himself in a country in which he has more positive form than much of the newer European names in this week’s field.