After its month-long winter break, the European Tour is back!
For the next few months while the mainland collectively shivers, the Tour follows the sun.
First up is a return to South Africa and, pleasingly for gamers, there’s no waiting around for the Middle East Swing to launch the official European Tour fantasy game.
Nope, plan your teams right now as the year-long game tees off with this week’s BWM SA Open.
Once more, South Africa’s national Open takes place at Glendower GC, a venue used for the last four editions.
The home Springbok players can often dominate their own events but the count so far at Glendower is 3-1 to the Europeans, who extended their lead when Graeme Storm edged out Rory McIlroy in a play-off last year.
Who would have thought that it was the nearest Rory came to winning in 2017?!
Glendower GC, in Johannesburg, looks a beast at 7,594 yards but the ball really flies due to it being 5,000 feet above sea level. It’s a flat, tree-lined, parkland layout featuring kikuyu grass fairways and Bentgrass greens while water is in play on 11 holes. The front nine is longer although last year’s winner Storm played it in 11-under compared to 7-under on the shorter back nine. Runner-up McIlroy will attest to the 451-yard 18th being a tough closer as he played it in a collective 2-over.
Past winners, scores and stats
2017 -18 Graeme Storm (DD: 30, DA: 12, GIR: 11, Src: 7, PA: 4)
2016 -14 Brandon Stone (DD: 13, DA: 59, GIR: 10, Src: 65, PA: 3)
2015 -11 Andy Sullivan (DD: 18, DA: 41, GIR: 31, Src: 5, PA: 1)
2014 -19 Morten Orum Madsen (DD: 14, DA: 66, GIR: 5, Src: 28, PA: 17)
Notes: It’s a mixed bag but three of the winners were in the top 11 for Greens in Regulation and the last three champions made the top four in Putting Average. Do you need to keep it out of the trees? Madsen and Stone didn’t do that and yet still won.
Some of the players who turned up early for practice have noted that Glendower is playing a little soft and the forecast suggest a storm on Tuesday. However, temperatures climb as the week goes on and the course should dry out on the weekend when the mercury rises to the high 80s and possibly early 90s on Sunday. Winds are set to be modest.
The Leading Contenders
The local man won the most recent co-sanctioned event in South Africa when capturing the Nedbank Golf Challenge with a closing 66 and he’s got a pretty impressive record at Glendower too with a fourth place on his last visit in 2016 and T15 in 2015. He’s a fantasy must on home soil with his last 11 starts in South Africa showing three wins, a second, a third, two fourths and nothing worse than T20.
Schwartzel has teed it up twice at Glendower and finished fourth and second. That runners-up finish needs some detail though. He’d started the final round with a five-shot lead and all set to win his national Open in his native Johannesburg. Perhaps the script was too perfect as Schwartzel buckled badly at the finish and lost a play-off to Andy Sullivan after being four clear with five to play. However, after some slightly lacklustre play in the second half of 2017, this is an obvious place to shine again.
One of the new wave of young South Africans, who really made a big mark in 2017. Frittelli finished 19th on last year’s Race to Dubai after a win and a second and he’s already third on the 2018 list after landing last month’s co-sanctioned Mauritius Open. Also fourth at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Frittelli has a mixed record at Glendower (MC-18-MC) but that top 20 in 2016 is probably the best guide given the significant strides he’s made over the last year.
Just about the longest hitter of the South Africans, Burmester was 8th for Driving Distance last year. He can also putt and that potent combination helped him finish 42nd on last year’s Race to Dubai and prove that he can now hold his own away from home. On local soil he’s particularly potent though with course form of 4-10 at Glendower while Burmester also won last year’s Tshwane Open after a pair of weekend 65s.
Burmester would outdrive him by a mile but Kjeldsen has veteran smarts and a neat and tidy game which still works well. The Dane has finished T16 and T12 in the last two editions of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the massively long Gary Player Country Club so should easily cope with this course given that the ball flies further at altitude. He ended 2017 with five top 25s in his final six starts.
The English youngster’s impressive rookie season tailed off a little after it had reached a crescendo with a breakthrough first win (Porsche European Open) followed by a top 10 in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. But it was still a year to remember and one of its early highlights was a third place at this venue thanks to a 67 followed by three 68s. His solid all-round game is a good fit.
Coetzee usually cashes in when the European Tour comes to his homeland and his wins include victory in the nearby Joburg Open. And yet, something always seems to go wrong at Glendower. To real surprise, he’s had three cracks at this tournament and missed the cut each time (70-77, 75-73, 70-76). Will it be any different this time? At least Coetzee finished 2017 well, with four top 10s in his final 10 starts.
The 35-year-old isn’t one of the South Africans we always think of in these events and he’s even further off most radars after playing last year in Japan. But gamers need to take Norris seriously. He pieced together four top six finishes in six starts on the Japan Tour from October to December and then took that good form to the Joburg Open where he finished third. He knows Glendower well and has a top three there form the Sunshine Tour’s BMG Classic although his form in this event is MC-41-MC-52.
Having won the SA Open on this course in 2015 and finished T12 in 2013, Sullivan has to enter calculations. He also landed the 2015 Joburg Open and was third in the 2016 Nedbank Golf Challenge but he’s missed his last two cuts at this venue and rather lost his way in the second half of last year with just one finish (T18 at Andalucia Masters) inside the top 40 in his last 11 appearances. A risky play until we see whether he’s had a successful reboot over the winter.
It’s his first time at Glendower but as a winner of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth we know he can thrive on tree-lined courses. The giant Englishman also boasts some decent location form with a T6 at the Tshwane Open and a third place in the 2015 Nedbank Golf Challenge. Like Sullivan, Wood didn’t pull up many trees between August and the season-ending DP World Tour Championship so some trust is needed.
The Next Rung
The 25-year-old Frenchman missed the cut here in January last year but he’s a much improved player since then. Third in the prestigious Scottish Open, he’s connected four top 20s since November, the most recent a top five finish in the Mauritius Open, his first start on the new 2018 wraparound schedule. One of those top 20s came at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City and he’s made the top 25 on his last two starts in South Africa.
Warren had far more bad weeks than good last season but got hot with a run of 2-15-4-10 across September and October to end 63rd on the Race to Dubai. He did finish third in the 2012 Joburg Open but the Scot hasn’t had a top 20 on South African soil in the last five years so gamers are probably better waiting until the Desert Swing to play him.
He still flits in and out of form and there have been lots of inconsistencies, usually caused by injury. But Sterne remains a legitimate play on home South African turf. He’s 12-for-12 in SA since 2015 and has finished T20 and T32 in two starts on this course. Sterne also won his national Open at Pearl Valley back in 2008.
South Africa and Morrison make a good match on recent evidence. The Englishman is 6-6-4 on his last three starts there (two of those Joburg Opens so he likes this region) and he’s got progressive form at Glendower too with T22 in 2013, T15 in 2015 and T13 last year. He’s already 12th on this season’s Race to Dubai after banking two top 10s in three starts before Christmas.
The Spaniard, who collected three Challenge Tour wins in 2015, bagged six top 20s in seven starts from July to October, showing off his obvious potential at this higher level. They came across a variety of courses but there are still some question marks over his liking for South African conditions. He’s just 5-for-14 in SA, 1-for-3 in this event and hasn’t managed a single top 20.
Now 42, Donaldson’s career appears to be on a downward path after the heady days of 2013/14 when he twice finished in the top five on the Race to Dubai and hit the winning shot at the Ryder Cup. But he’s still cracking the top 100 and picked his way through the trees to post a top four at Valderrama in October. MC on only start here last year but he did play well in South Africa in his hot years.
He has the Aussie flag next to him on the scoreboards but Scrivener was born in South Africa and enjoys his returns, especially to this course. The 28-year-old posted T11 on debut in 2015 and virtually matched that with T12 on his only other start in 2016. On both occasions he shot a 66 on the weekend. You can add in (fairly) current form too. Scrivener landed the New South Wales Open and also made the top 20 in the co-sanctioned Aussie Open and Aussie PGA.
Another of the South African new breed and he’s already got two wins. The first came at the nearby Joburg Open, a particular thrill given that he’s a resident of the city, and he backed that up with another ‘W’ in last year’s Czech Masters. He’s got two MCs at Glendower in this event but he did post a top three there in the BMG Classic. Also T12 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge on a recent SA start.
He’s already played in 14 South African Opens and has been one of the tournament’s stars in the last seven years with four top five finishes. The first two were at Serengeti and the most recent pair, both T5s, here at Glendower. On course/event form he’s a must but ending 2017 with six missed cuts out of eight needs addressing. He was, at least, second after 36 holes of the Hong Kong Open in November.
One of the golden boys of South African golf has rather hit a bump in the road and ended 2017 in woeful form, shooting all sorts of high numbers. He’s not pegged it up since shooting 76-79-75-70 at the Nedbank Golf Challenge so gamers need to decide if he’s ironed the problems out. If the belief is strong – Stone says he’s made “technical changes” to his swing and feels raring to go – he won this event at Glendower in 2016 and added another European Tour win in SA at the 2016 Alfred Dunhill Championship.
Upset the odds to beat Rory at this venue last year and secure a second Euro Tour win, a full 10 years after his first at the Open de France. He also caught the eye late in the year with a pair of top fours (Portugal and British Masters) in the Fall and a top 10 on his most recent visit to South Africa in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Capable of making a big title defense.
Experienced local has course form of 21-4 and has collected four top 10s in his last nine starts in these co-sanctioned SA events.
Lots of solid form in his homeland, including top four here in 2016. Recent runner-up in the Asian Tour’s Taiwan Masters.
A Finn with a love of golf in South Africa. Last seven starts there? 13-2-7-MC-13-21-27. The 13th came in last month’s Joburg Open while he was T7 at this venue last year.
In the top 10 here after 54 holes on last visit in 2016 before fading to T27 and also made the cut as a teenager in 2015. Not kicked on since winning June’s Nordea Masters but clearly a future star.
Course horse. Shot R2 65 on way to T7 last year and also T11 in 2015. Yet to miss cut in four starts at Glendower.
Jordan Spieth’s mate has shown his potential with Claret Jug challenge and second place at KLM Open. Quiet since but high upside. First start in South Africa.
Became a winner again in 2017 following a seven-year drought. Hasn’t done much since but T7 at Glendower 12 months ago suggests he could peak again.
Third in this event in 2016 and third at Valderrama in October – both tree-lined parkland tracks. Also shot three good rounds in Joburg Open last month when T30.
Who’s On The Team?
I’ll reveal my full six-man line-up for the official European Tour fantasy game in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
George Coetzee just never seems to get it right at Glendower so he’s off the team.