The Race to Dubai swings back to South Africa for a two tournament stretch starting this week with the Joburg Open held on the West and East courses at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
Sterne is the defending champion and is desperate to play well over the next month in an attempt to rise inside the world’s top 50 so as to gain a Masters invite (he’s 64th at the moment), but the way he fell away after a promising start in Dubai last week hardly bodes well for those hoping he will successfully defend the title he won so easily last year.
Schwartzel is much harder to dismiss, but the single figure odds jolly is overlooked at such a short price, especially as his only start this year saw him finish off the pace in Durban in January.
Having said that, home based players have to populate punters staking plans, as five of the seven editions of the Joburg Open since its inclusion on the European Tour have been won by South Africans.
Twelve months ago, George Coetzee was chalked up at 9/1 to win this event, a year on and I can’t understand why he is a bigger price at 10s. The field is similar, and Schwartzel was in better form last term, while Coetzee comes in to this week off the back of former figures of 4-5 (in 2013 it was 9-2).
He is well equipped to tame the tougher, longer East Course – the host venue that is played three times – and no-one has been putting as well as the Pretorian who has finished seventh, 14th and, last term, third in this tournament.
Thomas Aiken, a 20/1 shot, has similar recent numbers at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC (3-24-6) and he also possesses the second-best eight week adjusted stroke average in the field (69.64, behind Coetzee’s 69.06). Fifth in Qatar last time out, where he got little going on the putting surfaces after playing beautifully from tee to green (ranking in the top six of driving accuracy, greens in regulation and scrambling), Aiken will relish the return to South African fairways.
The best of the European raiders might be Danny Willet at 25/1. He has twice rewarded each-way backers at this week’s track and was 13th in Dubai last time out.
My three off the tee – Coetzee, Aiken and Willett.