Well, here we are in South Africa again but the headline story on europeantour.com on Monday morning didn't make for pretty reading.... ‘New venue for Tshwane Open’.
With this co-sanctioned (European Tour and local Sunshine Tour) event being just two years old, past course form was thin on the ground anyway but to have it completely removed makes life harder.
The ‘new’ venue is Pretoria Country Club, which is over 100 years old so surely some of the field have played it, right? Read on and the news is good.
For what it’s worth, here are the top 10 (inc. ties) in the previous two Tshawane Opens – both played at Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate.
2014 -20 Ross Fisher; -17 Danie Van Tonder, Michael Hoey; -16 Carlos Del Moral; -15 Hennie Otto; -13 Chris Wood, Darren Fichardt, Kevin Phelan; -12 Merrick Bremner; -11 Trevor Fisher, Jr., Simon Dyson, Edoardo Molinari
2013 -21 Dawie Van Der Walt; -19 Darren Fichardt; -18 Louis De Jaeger; -17 Peter Uihlein; -16 Bjorn Akesson, Danny Willett, Charl Coetzee, -15 Morten Orum Madsen, Graham van Der Merwe; -14 Desvonde Botes, Vaughn Groenewald, David Howell, Hennie Otto, Jake Roos, Romain Wattel
I don’t know about you but I feel better after reading that. On the whole, it’s a fairly familiar cast-list and features players who we’ve seen play well in the recent South African events.
And let’s not give up on past course form either. There is some. In fact, lots of it as this venue staged several Sunshine Tour events -- mostly with Vodacom in the title -- between 2005 and 2011.
The course - Pretoria Country Club
The 7,063-yard par 70 parkland course, based in the suburb of Waterkloof, dates back to 1910. It underwent a redesign by Gary Player in 2004 and -- here's the news we wanted -- has been the host track for many Sunshine Tour events. Usually, a par 71, it plays as a par 70 this week and has just two par 5s (549-yard 9th and 631-yard 12th). The fairways are described as "tight in places" and the greens are small and undulating. A river runs through holes 13-17. Form from the other two Tshwane Opens shouldn't be used as too serious a guide as that was played on the wide-open grasslands of the Els Club at Copperleaf. Then again, certain players seem to have a penchant for all courses in South Africa, however different they may be.
The last 72-hole event on this course was won with -24 under by Hennie Otto (not playing this week). Then again, he did win by nine so not everyone found it a pushover. A second round 61 probably helped him. Either side of that, the tournaments were just 54-holers and the winning scores were -8 (2011) and -9 (-2009) so there's evidence that the course has some teeth.
Pretoria is inland so the expectation is for temperatues to be high. The forecast backs that up. Temps should be in the mid/high 80s although it might feel even hotter than that due to the humidity. There could also be the chance of the odd t-storm. Winds should be moderate (Pretoria is located in a sheltered valley position).
As has been the case in recent South African events, let's split the main contenders into home South Africans and overseas raiders. Just 12 of the home players are available to pick in the European Tour Fantasy game and all those are mentioned below.
The Home Challenge
The entry list for this event on the Europeantour.com website also shows players' affiliate clubs. There is just one golfer attached to Pretoria CC and it just so happens to be Coetzee. He's played in numerous events here and, in the most recent, the Vodacom Origins - Pretoria, he finished runner-up. Coetzee doesn't exactly dominate here though as he has just one other top 10 from his other seven starts on this track. Evidence that he's not really on his game came last week when he missed the cut in the Africa Open.
Sterne won the 2007 Vodacom Championshp on this course and was T22 in his only other two starts (2006 and 2010). Overall, though, you'd expect one of South Africa's higher echelon golfers to have better credentials. For starters, he hasn't managed a top 10 in any home soil event for two years (that run spans eight tournaments) and, after failing to cash in three PGA Tour tournaments in California, he's finished T46 in Joburg and suffered an MC in the Africa Open.
Jaco Van Zyl
A fifth top six finish in the Africa Open highlighted Van Zyl's love for East London GC. So does he have any similar affection for Pretoria CC? The answer would appear to be no. Although he once finished T3 in the Vodacom Origins - Pretoria, his next seven starts at Pretoria (2006-2010) reveal not a single top 20. However, with form figures of 3-2-6 on his last three outings, Van Zyl looks an obvious selection for the European Tour's 10-pick format this week as he's one of the hottest golfers in the field.
Trevor Fisher, Jr.
Fisher pulled off his first European Tour win in style on Sunday, carding 63-64 on the weekend to win the Africa Open by five. The relaxed manner in which he finally opened the door suggests an immediate follow-up shouldn't be ruled out. He's another with plenty of experience of Pretoria CC and his form there is decent too with four top 16s in his last six starts, including a T6 on his last appearance in 2011.
Tjaart Van Der Walt
After three top 10s in his previous four tournaments in South Africa, VDW's missed cut in the Africa Open last week came as a surprise. He's played in four tournaments at Pretoria CC and has a T6 (2010) and a T17 (2009) in the Vodacom Championship.
Another of the 'name' South African players who isn't exactly shining in these co-sanctioned events. Fichardt was a reasonable T18 in the Joburg Open a fortnight ago but last week could only finish T70 in the Africa Open. Course form? That looks much healthir if you don't mind it being rather old. In eight appearances here, Fichardt has finished runner-up three times (2006, 2008 and 2009).
Dawie Van Der Walt
The big unit won the inaugural Tshwane Open (at a different venue, of course) and also landed the Nelson Mandela Championship in 2013 so he can be a serious player in these co-sanctioned events. He's taken part in three events at this week's course - finished T42-T21-T12 - but his latest form is woeful. Van Der Walt has missed the cut at both the Joburg and Africa Opens and started with a 77 last week.
Mulroy promised to be a title contender in both the Joburg and Africa Opens but couldn't go through with his effort on the weekend, settling for T13 and T29. Before that he was T16 in the Dimension Data Pro-Am so he's bubbling under. As for course form, he has none. While his compatriots were contesting events here in the last decade, Mulroy was plying his trade in on the Nationwide Tour/Web.Com Tour where he won twice.
Perhaps the closest we have to a true course horse this week. Hugo has 10 starts on this course and won the Vodacom Origins - Pretoria on the most recent in 2011. You can add to that a runner-up finish in the same event in 2005, three other top 10s and a further three top 25s. He's a 15-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, the latest coming in the Vodacom Origins of Golf in July, 2014. As for current form, he was T18 at last week's Africa Open so is worth an each-way bet. Note, he's not available in the Europeantour.com Fantasy game.
Bremner is available on the ET Fantasy game but there doesn't seem any obvious reason to pick him. True, he has plenty of course experience but, despite cashing six times out of seven, he's not posted anything better than a T31. In the last two weeks he's missed the cut in Joburg and finished T71 in the Africa Open.
After a wretched run of five missed cuts in six starts (T50 was the 'shining light'), Kruger finally found some form in East London last week. It didn't appear that way when he opened with a 74 but closing 69-69-67 lifted him to T24. If he has turned the corner, Kruger has some noteworthy course form -- T7, runner-up, T18 in his last three tournaments at Pretoria CC.
The South African is 4-for-7 on the European Tour this season but he's given supporters modest pickings due to no finishes inside the top 50. Any reason to select him this week? Well, there is some okay course form to his name - T11 2007, T21 2009, T16 2010 - but even his family might struggle to find room for him in their 10-strong European Tour Fantasy team.
He's been steady the last two weeks, with matching T24s in Joburg and East London. Steady also applies to his course form at Pretoria. He's 6-for-6 but those finishes range between T12 and T45 so there look better options amongst the home contingent.
The Overseas Challenge
The Englishman jets in from Florida having finished a decent T23 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. That performance looks better when considering he had to bounce back from an opening 78 which could be explained away by rust as it was his first start in over a month. Fisher excels in South Africa and has a win (this event), a second, a third and a T10 in his last five starts.
After winning his previous two events in South Africa (SA Open and Joburg Open), the dice went cold for Sullivan in last week's Africa Open when his attacking approach backfired and he missed the cut. Before those highs, he's had three other top fives and two further top 15s in his last nine starts in South Africa so he loves the country and should be expected to shine again this week after his aberration at East London.
Probleme, Gregory? Heavily fancied to be a big player in the last two South African events following a run of 5-13-5 on the European Tour, the Frenchman missed the cut in both. In Joburg he didn't cash after shooting 70-71 while a pair of 74s did for him in East London. Stats in these two events have been, shall we say, unpredictable but it seems Bourdy's short game was the problem. One missed cut is careless, two is downright clumsy so there may be better options this week.
The Englishman had reeled off five straight top 25s in South Africa going into last week's Africa Open and looked a certainty to extend that streak to six after going into the weekend in position to challenge for the trophy but he stalled and dropped to T34, Still, Howell is clearly in a good place following his T2 in Joburg the previous week and it would be a surprise if he's not in the mix again.
After his unexpected dip on the Gulf Swing (missed all three cuts), the Frenchman has played his way back into form and, on his last three starts, improved from T60 (Malaysia), to T31 (Thailand), to T7 (Indian Open). In three events in South Africa in 2013 he finished third (Alfred Dunhill), 4th (Nelson Mandela) and 10th (this event) so he's a proven performer on this turf.
Another Frenchman with a penchant for South African courses. You'll do well to pick out any top 10s on his CV in other countries but in South Africa he can boast four in his last seven events. Quesne (pronounced 'Khan' if you happen to be discussing him in a cafe somewhere) displayed his latest affection for South Africa with a T8 in last week's Africa Open after a strong final 36 holes (66-67).
Well, we're still waiting. After his superb start to 2015, the rookie has been championed in many quarters as a surefire winner anytime soon. With four top sevens already under his belt, hopes were high again going into last week's Africa Open but, despite a Friday 65, he slipped to T45 on the weekend. Does just one top 20 in five starts in South Africa suggest the win won't come here or are we all just being a bit impatient?
Morten Orum Madsen
Now, here is someone who really does love teeing it up in South Africa. As well as winning the 2013 South African Open, the Dane has picked off 11 other top 25s on SA soil in his last 15 starts. The latest came with a T3 in last week's Africa Open when he closed 64-66 on the weekend. Not a world-beater in most places, but here he's always one to take seriously.
Rock's form in South Africa is patchy (no top 10s since 2012) but he is a class act on his day and was also T15 in this event last year. He missed the cut in Thailand last time out but that followed a T16 in Malaysia and an impressive T9 in the Dubai Desert Classic.
German golf isn't just about Martin Kaymer and Bernhard Langer. Or even Alex Cejka, who won on the PGA Tour last week. Well, it probably is but Kieffer has suggested in his fledgling career that he can become part of Das Conversation and shot a Friday 63 on the way to a T8 in the Africa Open last week. He's also 11-for-12 worlwide so is a regular on the weekend.
The 34-year-old Finn has quietly finished in the top 25 in five of his last six worldwide starts, the latest coming in the form of a T13 in last week's Africa Open. Before that, his last appearence in South Africa produced another top 25 (T21) in this event.
Adilson Da Silva
Course horse klaxon! Yes, who would have though that Pretoria CC is one of the Brazilian's favorite tracks? How's this for form in his last five events there (dating back from his runners-up finish in 2011): 2-3-10-13-2. Wind a bit further back and he was also T4 in the 2006 Vodacom Origins - Pretoria. Intriguingly, he's in good nick too having finished T24 in last week's Africa Open and also T12 in the Indian Open. The bad news? You can't pick him in the ET Fantasy game. Worth an each-way bet though.
Finally. After making seven straight cuts and not finishing better than T15, the Spaniard finally got involved at the business end last week and took T3 in the Africa Open. Not that he threatened to win but it was still a confidence boost. A quick check of his CV also shows a second place in the 2013 Nelson Mandela Championship in South Africa.
Who's On The Team?
Despite the home players having the advantage of course experience, not enough of those available to select for fantasy purposes are in good enough form.
The pick of the home contingent could well be Trevor Fisher, Jr. as he won last week without breaking sweat.
Plenty of overseas challengers could go well and again I'll side with a Fisher.... Ross. He's the defending champion and played a strong final 54 holes in the WGC-Cadillac last week.
Spaniards should enjoy the heat so Jorge Campillo is tipped to follow up last week's T3.
I'll reveal my full 10-man squad in Tuesday's Playing The Tips feature.
For bettors, the three mentioned are worth a go but also add in two players who aren't available in the European Tour Fantasy game.
Both Jean Hugo and Brazilian Adilson Da Silva have excellent course form and are available at tasty each-way prices.
One To Fade
Richard Sterne has missed four of his last five worldwide cuts and the most recent came in last week's Africa Open so something isn't right.