A few days after the stunning end to the 2013 European Tour schedule, that culminated in Henrik Stenson’s capture of the Race to Dubai crown, the 2014 season kicks off at Glendower Golf Club in Ekurhuneli with the South African Open Championship.
Unfortunately, the new European number one won’t be teeing up in the Rainbow Nation, citing his on-going wrist injury and the need for rest after his win in Dubai on Sunday, but at least that gives someone else the chance to showcase their talents in the first of five events – four of which are held in South Africa – that finish out the calendar year.
Stenson would have been the defending champion and short price favourite, but without the Swede, local boy Charl Schwartzel takes the favourite’s mantle, trading at 4/1 to win his national open for the first time.
The 2011 Masters champion has to be the market principle, and was a recent winner on the OneAsia Tour, but there are much better each-way alternatives to Schwartzel, who has no competitive experience of the Glendower layout which last staged this event back in 1997.
There are plenty who have, as the course hosts the BMG Classic on the Sunshine Tour, with Hennie Otto perhaps the man to follow at 20/1. The Boksburg professional won the South African Open in 2011 and was second in the most recent BMG Classic just last month.
Form figures of 8-12-6-2-3 in his last five starts – the first three of which in that sequence were all on the European Tour – are the standout numbers of the field and, at the current prices, Otto is the value call.
Since this event was incorporated onto the European Tour 16 years ago there has only been three European winners, and even with the likes of Ross Fisher (14/1) in the field, with the latter fresh from a near miss on the PGA Tour last week, the feeling is local players will have an advantage.
Johannesburg born Justin Walters (25/1) finished the 2013 term with a runners-up spot in Portugal to secure his playing privileges for the following season and after a strong showing in Turkey will be raring to go first time up this campaign.
Lastly, with three wins in his last four South African starts, Jaco Van Zyl at a princely 33/1, will be relishing a return to home fairways and should also be backed.
My three off the tee – Otto (20/1), Walters (25/1) and Van Zyl (33/1).
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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