We head back to South Africa, with Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC the venue for the Joburg Open - jointly hosted by the European and Sunshine Tours. Darren Clarke - 201.0 - has recently been appointed European Ryder Cup captain and the Northern Irishman tees it up at a venue he said this week is one of his favourites in the world; a ringing endorsement for what promises to be a great four days of golf.
Last year the Joburg Open saw big George Coetzee finally get over the line with a three shot win for his maiden European Tour victory, signing for a total of nineteen under par. George is back to defend and he leads the market alongside Alexander Noren at 12.00 in the betting. Big South African names are missing this week with no Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel or Branden Grace in the field so this is a great chance for some of the less well known to challenge strongly and maybe book a place at the Open Championship in the process.
The courses - Royal Johannesburg G&CC (East and West)
As usual the par 72 East course will host while the 210 strong field will play 18 holes of a potential 72 on the easier West. I say "easier" but in the last few years there hasn't been as much of a difference in scoring and the East course has lent itself to some low numbers. The trick is to keep the ball in play on a lengthy track approximately 7,660 yards.
Both courses are treelined and fairways are narrow in places. The tough Kikuyu rough will be lighter along the 7,200 par 71 West Course while numerous water hazards lurk for the errant on the East. Johannesburg is at altitude so - although conditions are set to be soft and slow - the ball will travel further through the air. Premium this week is on ball striking and tee to green play, with surfaces set to run at just 10' on the stimp.
Three from the pack
Thomas Aiken - 26.00 or 6.00 - arguably looks the best value towards the front of the market. Thomas was supposedly sick last week hence a 36-hole withdrawal in the Dimension Data event but he's started the season well with a top 10 in the Dubai Desert Classic. A Johannesburg native and a player that excels on home soil - especially parkland style courses - Aiken has three top six finishes here in his last three. The multiple European Tour winner averages almost 300 yards from the tee and sits 5th in driving accuracy at the same time - a perfect recipe for success here.
Richard Sterne - 23.00 or 5.50 - has been plying his trade in America this year but he returns home to a course he eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sterne comes back to the event he won in both 2008 and 2013 off the back of a missed cut at Pebble Beach but numbers of 71-71-69 hardly set the alarms bells ringing. Like Aiken, Sterne excels in the total driving department and also plays his best stuff on home soil. He's posted some low numbers on the tougher East Course too and blitzed the field by seven strokes here in the aforementioned 2013 success.
Jaco Van Zyl - 34.00 or 7.50 - has recently held the tag of leading tournament winner on the Sunshine Tour and he's amassed no less than 14 professional wins in all. So following the theme of players dominant on home soil, it's hard to leave out a man who has two recent top four finishes at Johannesburg G&CC. Jaco is renowned for his accuracy and ball striking ability and after some poor form he rebounded with a top 3 at the Dimension Data last week and will be looking to kick on in familiar surroundings. JVZ has played in each of the last eight renewals of the Joburg Open.
Sticking with the South African equipped with driving efficiency theme, Garth Mulroy - 51.00 or 11.00 - is another that stands out. Again, it's horses for courses and Mulroy has posted two second place finishes here in recent years. He comes to Joburg showing progressive 35-16 form that culminated in a final round knock of 66 at the Dimension Data pro am on Sunday. In Garth's two runner up finishes in this event the players in his way in '08 and '11 were Richard Sterne and Charl Schwartzel respectfully so that tells us he's very comfortable on the track. Mulroy also owns another brace of notable top 10s here.