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South African Open Betting Tips: Six selections for Sun City test

South African Open betting tips: Six selections for Sun City.
South African Open betting tips: Six selections for Sun City.

What a chaotic way to start the DP World Tour era. Just as the South African swing was getting going in Johannesburg, news of a new Covid variant of concern surfaced in South Africa. This resulting in travel restrictions from the UK, which caused a raft of UK & Irish golfers to withdraw, to try and get home before being forced to quarantine.

The tour then stated, that whilst the Joburg Open would be completed, the South African Open would be demoted to Sunshine Tour status. Plus, we lost the Alfred Dunhill Championship completely.

Further to that, the Joburg Open wasn’t even able to complete its shortened 54 holes, with weather wreaking havoc. Which meant we finished with Thriston Lawrence picking up a breakthrough European Tour title after they reverted to the scores at the end of round two.

South African Open Tips

Onto this week and I’m delighted that Sky Sports have decided to show coverage of the South African Open at Sun City’s Gary Player Country Club. There’s still a quality field of South African’s teeing it up this week, while a handful of DP World Tour players have also decided to stay on and play the event. Meaning that despite it now only having Sunshine Tour status, we get to watch a decent field tee it up on a high class golf course.

Gary Player Country Club has a long association with the limited field Nedbank Golf Challenge, going back to the early 80s. An unofficial event until 2006, when it gained Sunshine Tour status and from 2013 has had European Tour status, though hasn’t been played since 2019 due to the pandemic.

As well as hosting this year’s South African Open, it stepped in as the host of last year’s renewal. There we saw Christiaan Bezuidenhout pick up his 2nd title on the bounce with an emphatic five-shot victory over Welshman, Jamie Donaldson.

It has also held many Sunshine Tour events over recent years. Taking over as host of the Sun City Challenge from 2016-2019, it then welcomed the Royal Swazi Open in 2020 and this year has hosted two more events. In the form of the SunBet Challenge at Sun City and the Blue Label Challenge, which took place just a few weeks ago.

Gary Player Country is a brute of a course in terms of distance, stretching out to almost 8000 yards, though is set at high altitude of around 4000ft above sea level. This causes the ball to fly around 8% further, leveling up the playing field for the shorter hitters.

It’s a fabulously difficult test that offers great variety. Plenty of birdie chances on risk/reward holes but also an abundance of holes where you’re just happy to leave with par.

Fairways are generous and there’s little in the way of thick rough. Though there’s no shortage of danger aside them, or around the mostly large, undulating putting surfaces. Both are heavily bunkered and there’s water in-play throughout the course, with thick jungle offering further trouble off-the-tee.

Leaderboards have featured a mix of different types of players over recent years but there is one standout aspect of the games of the four most recent winners that binds them together – approach play.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout was last year’s winner and though renowned for having a superb short game, he led the field in approach. 

Back in the 2019 Nedbank Challenge, Tommy Fleetwood won thanks to a blisteringly good ball-striking performance. Ranking 5th in approach but was an equally impressive 3rd off-the-tee. 

2018 Nedbank champion Lee Westwood is another player we associate with world class ball-striking. Whilst he drove the ball well, he truly excelled both in approach, ranking 3rd and on the greens, where he ranked 2nd. 

With 2017 champion, Branden Grace producing a performance akin to that of Tommy Fleetwood, leading the field in approach and driving it well.

As you can see, all four players went well in various other areas. Bezuidenhout and Westwood putting well, whilst Tommy and Grace drove it well but the one constant in all those performances was quality with the irons. You can also find similar stories when looking at players who followed them. Donaldson behind Bezuidenhout in 2020, Kinhult behind Fleetwood in 2019, Garcia behind Westwood in 2018 and Jamieson behind Grace in 2017, all producing quality approach play throughout the week.

The forecast is a little worrying, which suggests we may have trouble due to thunderstorms, much like last week’s Joburg Open. Meaning we could have another stop-start event. Further to that is the possibility of an extra softened course, which may well benefit the longer hitters.

The field is strong for a Sunshine Tour event. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Dylan Frittelli, Dean Burmester and Garrick Higgo amongst a raft of top South African players teeing it up this week.

Golf odds
Justin Harding each-way (7 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-11-30 15:55 Odds subject to change.

Last year’s South African Open champion, Christiaan Bezuidenhout heads the market at 11/2. Followed by Dean Burmester at 10/1, with Garrick Higgo and Dylan Frittelli coming next in the betting. Though it’s Justin Harding that made the most appeal to me at the top end, after an encouraging ball-striking performance over the first two rounds of the Joburg Open.

Harding was 33/1 last week and finished 23rd. That at a course he has rarely gone well at, missing the cut in each of his three most recent visits, yet still performed with credit over those first two rounds. Jump forward to this week, at a course where he has finishes of 26th, 6th & 8th on the Sunshine Tour, as well as 48th last year in this event and the 22/1 looks more than reasonable about a player who is a proven winner at a higher level than this, being a two-time European Tour winner.

Truth be told, before last week Harding had been going through a rough run of form, finishing no better than 50th in his previous five starts. This poor run has been predominantly down to his long game. With rock solid rankings of 41st around-the-greens and 49th in putting last year on the European Tour, the issue has rarely been in his short game. Yet last week, that was exactly the case, as he gained strokes off-the-tee and in approach but lost them on and around the greens.

If able to build on that small sample of an improved performance last week with his long game and get the short game firing to its usual standard, Harding should go close and build on his strong record around Gary Player Country Club.

JC Ritchie each-way (7 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-11-30 15:55 Odds subject to change.

JC Ritchie will be amongst the players most frustrated with last week’s event being reduced to 36 holes. After a chaotic first round of +1, where he had the rare double of making an 8 on a par 5 as well as a hole-in-one. He bounced back in round 2 with a superb 66, to sit 8th after two rounds. Which was ultimately his final finishing position.

That was the most recent result in what’s been a real up and down year for Ritchie. Where he’s played most of his golf on the Challenge Tour.

He made a strong start to the year, resulting in him picking up a victory in the Cape Town Open, a co-sanctioned event between the Challenge Tour and Sunshine Tour. Since then, he’s been solid, only missing four cuts but hasn’t threatened the top of the leaderboard as much as he’d like.

That 8th place finish last week not coming out of the blue though, as he recorded his best finish since winning in Cape Town on his previous start. With a finish of 6th in the Challenge Tour Grand Final. 

He has an excellent record here at Sun City. Playing six times and missing the cut just once. He’s recorded finishes of 7th, 28th, 4th and 5th in his four other attempts on the Sunshine Tour. With his undoubted best effort coming last year in this very event, when 5th in a stronger field.

He’s a strong ball-striker, which is backed up by last week’s performance. Where he gained strokes off-the-tee and in approach, putting up minor losses with the short game. Though is typically solid in that respect, ranking 29th in scrambling and 24th in putting on the Sunshine Tour this year from the handful of events he’s played.

He’s won six times on the Sunshine Tour in the last five years and has multiple top 10s in the co-sanctioned events. Combine that with his record here, his more encouraging recent form and just his general suitability to the course, I think Ritchie is most likely of the rest to put it up to the more established South African players this week.

Jaco Ahlers each-way (6 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-11-30 16:00 Odds subject to change.

I was originally tempted to give Darren Fichardt another go, as he has an excellent record here but his withdrawal from the event made my next decision pretty easy. If you’re looking for players who know how to win on this tour, you needn’t look much further than Jaco Ahlers.

Ahlers is an eight-time winner on his home tour, the most recent of those victories coming in 2019 at the Vodacom Origins event at Selborne. His first coming back in 2014 at the Cape Town Open. He also possesses an excellent record around GPCC. 

He hasn’t missed a cut in eight visits, with two of those performances coming in European Tour fields. He finished 21st in the Nedbank Challenge in 2014 and was 32nd last year in the South African Open. In addition, he’s played six Sunshine Tour events around the venue, three times finishing inside the top six, with his two best performances coming this year, when 2nd in the SunBet Challenge and 3rd in the Blue Label Challenge.

His recent form’s been strong, with a 43rd place finish in the Joburg last week following on from him finishing 3rd, 19th and 5th in his three previous Sunshine Tour starts. This has been part of a solid year, where Ahlers has picked up 7 top 10s in 18 starts. 

He’ll need to hit it as well as he can this week. If doing so he’ll be able to use his stellar short game, ranking 10th in scrambling and 26th in putting on the Sunshine Tour this year, to pick up the 9th and biggest win of his career.

golf betting tips
Jbe' Kruger each-way (7 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-11-30 16:00 Odds subject to change.

Three big price outsiders now and I couldn’t resist six-time worldwide winner Jbe’ Kruger, who possesses a quality record at Sun City.

Not only is Kruger a six-time winner but he’s also a European Tour winner. That title coming in the Avantha Masters back in 2012. Along with that he has a win in the prestigious Shinhan Donghae Open in Korea and four victories in his native South Africa.

The most recent of his victories came this year in the Gauteng Championship in SA. Since then, he’s predominantly plied his trade in Japan and has been solid if unspectacular but does arrive here off the back of six made cuts in a row. Most recently picking up a 32nd place finish in the Joburg Open last week, which offered plenty of encouragement because of his solid performance in approach and on the greens.

He’s yet to finish outside the top 20 at this famed course. In ownership of finishes of 8th, 3rd and 20th in Sunshine Tour events, with an 18th place finish in this tournament last year showing further how well he plays around here.

I was a little surprised at how big he was this week. As a proven winner and with that excellent record at this week’s venue, he looks a dangerously big price.

Keagan Thomas each-way (7 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-11-30 16:05 Odds subject to change.

25 year-old Keagan Thomas is a relative novice having only turned pro last year after a solid amateur career. He’s been performing with a lot of credit of late on the Sunshine Tour, twice going well here at Gary Player Country Club and has the solid all-round game to surprise many this week.

Now there’s no doubt he’s been inconsistent, but he’s forgiven that due to his youth and inexperience. He’s played 14 events this year and missed the cut in half of them, but when he does make the final round(s), he often performs extremely well. Putting up five top 10s in his seven made cuts for the year.

His best performance to date was two starts ago in the Blair Atholl Championship, when he finished 3rd. His 2nd best coming at this very course in the SunBet Challenge, when finishing in 5th back in June. 

I mentioned he’d actually performed with credit twice here this year. The 2nd of those performances resulted in a withdrawal at the Blue Label Challenge. Where he sat around the top 10 and still in with a chance before withdrawing during the final round.

Thomas is a strong ball-striker, ranking high for both driving accuracy (33rd) and distance (23rd) on the Sunshine Tour this year. Also hitting plenty of greens, ranking 36th and backs this up with a solid short game, ranking 40th in scrambling and 77th in putting.

In his short time as a pro, he’s shown plenty of times the potential he possesses. Hopefully he can put the positive experiences he’s had here already this year to good use and give a good account of himself amongst a strong group of home players.

Jaco Prinsloo each-way (7 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-11-30 16:05 Odds subject to change.

My final selection is Jaco Prinsloo at a huge price. He’s already won twice in South Africa this year and was the form player on the tour earlier in the season. With his form remaining solid in the latter part of the year and in possession of some decent performances at Sun City, he looked overpriced and definitely has the game to be in there with a fighting chance on Sunday.

Not only did Prinsloo pick up two titles in his first four starts in 2021, he achieved a finish of 22nd or better in his first nine starts of the year. He withdrew on his 10th start but has played five times since. Recording finishes of 10th and then 12th last week in the Joburg Open, in his last three events, showing he’s still playing well.

His record here is mixed, having played seven times, missing the cut on three occasions. Though of the four made cuts, he’s recorded good finishes of 11th, 12th, 29th and 11th, proving he has the skills to play the course well.

Further evidence of this is found in his stats in South Africa this year. Where he’s well above average in every aspect. He’s a big hitter that particularly excels with his irons, ranking 16th in greens-in-regulation. Though does possess more than enough quality with the short game too, ranking 28th in scrambling and 46th in putting.

Those two victories now make Prinsloo a four-time Sunshine Tour winner. Considering the golf he’s been playing this year, coupled with a promising record here, I thought the price was far too big and he’s by no means an unrealistic contender this week.

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