Joburg Open Preview – Side Markets advised

Frazzled previews the Joburg Open and while he has not selected anyone in the Outright market, he has some interesting bets in the Top GB & Ireland and Top Continental Euro Markets.

Event & Venue

This is the 9th staging of the Joburg Open at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club and once again a huge field of 210 take part this year, after final qualifying took place earlier in the week.

In keeping with the changes from last year, the Top 3 players in the Top 10 this week, who are not already exempt, will gain a spot in the Open Championship at St Andrews, which provides a huge carrot for these players, but will act as additional pressure if they are in the Top 10, without being in contention for the title, especially if some of the bigger names occupy the top positions on the leaderboard on Sunday. However that is less likely this year as the field is extremely week and players of the calibre of Charl Schwartzel (possibly with changed spot in the schedule), Branden Grace (preparing for Doral) and Louis Oosthuizen are giving this a miss.

As in previous years, the event will be played on both the East and West Courses over the first two days, with the East Course taking sole ownership over the weekend.


There is a significant difference in length between the East and West Courses, with the former measuring 7.658 yards and the latter measuring 7,203 yards. There was a significant difference in the difficulty of these courses in previous years and the East still remains the tougher track, but it averaged 71.56 last year compared to 69.84 on the West Course, so the difficulty factor is not quite as pronounced as it was in the past. Therefore, while we still need to account for the difference in the courses, placing too much emphasis on scores after a player has played one or the other might be a risky strategy.

The East Course is made up of very long Par 4s with three of them in excess of 500 yards and another four measuring between 450 and 499 yards. The Par 3s are also long with three of them measuring in excess of 200 yards, but the Par 5s are all accessible with the longest being both the 6th and 8th holes at 580 yards. The course does appear to be extremely long, but it is worth bearing in mind that the Royal Kensington course is at altitude and with the ball flight likely to be as much as 10% more, the course does not play as long as a strict reading of its measurements would suggest.

The West Coast measures 7,203 yards and features many contrasting holes with the Par 3s varying between 131 yards and 234 yards in length and the Par 4s varying between 379 yards and the very long closing hole of 525 yards.

The fairways are reasonably generous at an average of 20 yards, but the rough is likely to once again cause a lot of problems. It consists of kikuyu mixed with wild grasses and like 2014, it looks set to measure a full 20mm longer on the East Coast at 85mm than on the West Coast. The kikuyu rough is not a type that the players experience very often and mixed with wild grasses, it can tangle around the club and can be very difficult to play out of, especially when you are looking for finesse around the greens. Therefore very good scrambling will be vital, but this also suggests that course experience can prove to be very useful.

The length of the courses would suggest that power off the tee is vital, but while it is an advantage, with a number of the players that finished in the Top 10 last year, ranking in the Top 10 in Driving Distance, the ball flight at altitude significantly shortens the course and we are not going to be heavily influenced by power off the tee stats. What does appear significant is the Greens In Regulation Stats. All of the Top 5 in 2013 ranked in the Top 10 in GIR and while it was not quite the same factor last year, 4 of the Top 5 ranked in the Top 11 in GIR in the 2014 event.

The bentgrass greens themselves are set to run to a relatively slow 10' on the stimpmeter and should not provide the test of putting that has experienced on the Desert courses and in Thailand. They could slow further as well, given that we are now in the rain season and there is significant rain and thunderstorms forecast over the coming days.  Therefore the advantage that the best putters in the field have, may not be as pronounced here.

The possibility of thunderstorms over the coming days is a significant factor as they are set to occur in the afternoons and we could experience a number of delays, with players maybe not finishing their second rounds until Saturday. While this is speculative, it could confer an advantage to the early Thursday starters.

In summary, this is most certainly not a tough venue and while there is trouble lurking, we are likely to see a score of close to -20 being needed to win this week. Whether we get close to the incredible -27 recorded by Richard Sterne in 2013 is debatable, but birdies, and lots of them will be needed over the coming days. This is one of the reasons that it is important to not only find players that should be suited to the venue, and/or have course form, but also identifying players that are in good form coming into this event. A fast start is essential and any rustiness or having to try and play into form, will leave a player with too much to do. Finding the GIR, scrambling well and converting the birdie opportunities are the key to success.

South Africans:

The South Africans have a significant advantage in this event, but the prices on them make little appeal now. George Coetzee is probably the right favourite and could win well, but he is not in great form and Richard Sterne has not shown anything recently, with missed cuts in his past 3 events. Justin Walters was the pick of the prices at 100/1 earlier in the week and we advised followers to take that with Stan James, but at 50/1 he looks no more than fairly priced now.

Jaco Van Zyl and Thomas Aiken both have appeal, but Aiken was very poor in Malaysia and withdrew last time, while the Van Zyl price has tightened and he will make more appeal at East London next week. Therefore we are steering clear of this group and as a consequence our main bets will be in the Group Markets.

Seve Benson:

Whether the South Africans comprehensively dominate this event remains to be seen, but there is still plenty of interesting betting opportunities outside of them, both in the outright markets and the various group markets.

Seve Benson is a player that seems to falter when he looks set to really challenge for a big prize, but he has shown more than enough at this venue in the past and in recent events, to suggest that he could have a very big week here.

After missing the cut in 2012 & 2013, he improved greatly on these performances last year, when he finished 10th and ranked 12th in Driving Distance and 6th in Greens In Regulation. He put together some excellent displays after that with a 3rd placing in the Trophee Hassan and a series of very solid displays towards the end of the season with a 13th in the European Masters, 12th in Wales Open and 12th in the Hong Kong Open. He ended the season ranked 19th for Driving Distance and 30th for GIR on the European Tour, which match up perfectly with these course requirements.

Benson has had a solid start to 2015 as well, with finishes of 19th in Qatar and 35th in the Desert classic, where he badly faltered after being on the heels of the Rory McIlroy after opening rounds of 66-66 were followed by 73 and 76. He is 22nd in Driving Distance this year and while his GIR stats are not what they should be, this has been measured on the windy courses in the Desert and we would expect to see a big improvement this week.

Benson has consistently produced some of his best golf in Africa and one of his 3 Challenge Tour wins was in the Kenya Open, while he has produced some very good display in the Italian Open and also won the Piemonte Open near Turin and many of these Italian courses are likened to the tests provided in South Africa.

Benson opens up on the East Course on Thursday and has what could be a very favourable 7:30am tee time, if the forecasters are to be believed. Therefore with these positives in mind, he looks a solid bet in the Top Great Britain and Ireland market, while we will have a small interest in the Outright rather than let him win unbacked.

Advised Bets:

1.5 points each way Seve Benson - Top Great Britain & Ireland at 14/1 with Bet365 (1/4 odds 4 places)

0.5 points each way Seve Benson - Outright win at 40/1 with Bet365, BetVictor and Paddy Power

Thomas Pieters:

Our second selection in these group markets is the hugely improved Belgian, Thomas Pieters. Pieters missed the cut here last year, so has no course form that we can highlight as a positive, but his game should match up very well to this venue and his game has improved a huge amount in the interim. He mixed some excellent play last year with some poor performances, but managed a runner up spot in the Open De Espana at the very technical PGA Catalunya venue, was 8th in the Malaysian Open, 6th in the Russian Open and 14th in the Nordea Masters.

This season he has improved his displays and certainly his consistency. He has made all 6 cuts this season and has posted finishes of 8th in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, 4th in Abu Dhabi and a recent 16th in Malaysia, where he closed with a 66 after starting poorly with two opening rounds of 73.

Pieters is immensely powerful from the tee and ranks 14th in Driving Distance this season. He needs to continually improve his iron play, but other aspects of his game continue to improve and he ranks 50th in Scrambling, 6th in Putts Per GIR and 25th in Sand Saves.

His price in the outright market of 33/1 makes limited appeal, as it looks about right, but the 12/1 on him in the Top Continental Euro market with Stan James makes plenty of appeal against Alex Noren and Gregory Bourdy. Both are tough opponents, but Noren has to prove his effectiveness at this venue and Bourdy, while 16th last year, does not enjoy the same advantage in terms of length off the tee as Pieters.

Pieters is also out early and on the West Course at 8:15am, so hopefully a fast start will give us plenty to be interested in over the coming days.

Advised Bet:

1 point each way Thomas Pieters - Top Continental Euro at 12/1 with Stan James (1/4 odds 4 places)