Frazzled previews the Joburg Open and his main bet this week is Richard Sterne.
Event & Venue
This is the 10th 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. The event has moved in the schedule again, from a February slot to early January and as it clashes with the EurAsia Cup, this is an extremely weak field this year, with nearly all of the Top home players missing and defending champion, Andy Sullivan, also absent due to EurAsia Cup commitments and a number of other Europeans that regularly play these co-sanctioned events, have also opted for the EurAsia Cup.
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 71.57 last year compared to 69.5 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 and it the rough is kikuyu mixed with wild grasses and if it is the same as previous years, it will be more penal than the East Coast.
The length of the courses would suggest that power off the tee is vital, but with the course playing at altitude, it is nothing like as long as it seems and only one of the Top 10 finishers last year, ranked in the Top 10 for driving distance. What does appear significant Total Driving and finding Greens In Regulation and we will be looking closely at these areas to try and find the winner.
The bentgrass greens themselves generally run to a relatively slow 10' on the stimpmeter and should not provide the test of putting that will be apparent in the coming weeks on the Desert Swing and a solid weak tee to green, coupled with solid putting is likely to be the formula for success.
This event makes limited appeal this week, but we have to take a chance on Richard Sterne given the field quality and the fact that he seems to finally be healthy again and his game is coming together. Sterne is now ranked 407 in the world, but he is a vastly superior player to what his ranking suggests and when fully healthy, is only a little way behind the best of the South Africans on tour. He is a dual winner of this event, in 2008 and when taking the course apart in 2013 and he is also a multiple European Tour winner, with victories including the Wales Open and the Open De Madrid. He also has some excellent finishes in some of the biggest events on both the European and PGA Tours, with a 2nd place to Graeme McDowell in the 2013 Open De France and a 4th place in the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral in 2014.
All of this form is well in excess of what this field has achieved, with only George Coetzee really running him close in terms of achievements, albeit they are mainly place finishes. However Sterne has really struggled with injuries in the past as well including through most of last year. The signs are much more positive at the moment though and he seems to be healthy and also striking the ball well. While the results have not come yet, there was a great deal of encouragement last week, even though he slipped to 32nd in the end. He was very solid from off the tee and was in the process of mounting a charge when play was interrupted in Saturday. He fell away after that, but with that event under his belt, he should be able to build further on this and in a field of this nature, he has to be backed each way.The 28/1 is generally available, but even though they are paying 1/5th the odds each way, Paddy Power looks the place to go with 7 places being paid, so we will recommend that, although Skybet are paying 6 places and are 1/4 odds, so that appeals as well.
2 points each way Richard Sterne at 28/1 with Paddy Power (each way 7 places) & Skybet (each way 6 places)