In compiling the Joburg Open betting guide, the key decision to make concerned whether the South African players would enjoy any significant home advantage. Last week, a superior understanding of the greens probably explains why eight of the leading 12 players were homegrown. It also can’t help that so much of Europe is covered in snow, making it impossible for someone in the wrong place to practice over the past few weeks.
The evidence from three previous renewals is mixed. Well over half the players in the top five have been South African, but when looking at both those in serious contention and further down the leaderboard, that trend becomes much less pronounced. Only one of the three winners was home-grown. We also need to consider that the European contingent at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC is markedly stronger than last week, and given some of the names it would be madness to stick to an all South African staking plan.
Anyone with gambling experience will understand the frustation of watching Charl Schwartzel win last week. Schwartzel repeatedly let this column down when in contention over the past few months, only to produce a Tiger-like final round performance as soon as we’ve dropped him. No matter, because at the end of the day every player has his price, and Charl just isn’t the type to be backing as favourite in single figures. He’s simply not reliable enough, and whatever his form on Sunday, the same argument must apply this week. Fourth place last year was a vast improvement on previous efforts and shows he can play the course, but with a greater emphasis on driving accuracy I’m not convinced it’s ideal.
Much more appealing is the man who was challenging Schwartzel for favouritism last week, RICHARD STERNE. He’s already delivered for this column on this course two years ago, which was his second top effort at the venue having finished third in a Sunshine Tour event very early in his career. The key to success around this course is long, straight driving, with good control required for approaches to smallish greens. Sterne has been consistently driving the ball well for the last couple of months, including for last week’s respectable 13th place, and is too obvious to leave out of calculations.
Danish pair Anders and Soren Hansen have similarly obvious claims. The former is defending champion, and continued his superb South African record with third at Pearl Valley just before Christmas. Besides the extra pressure of trying to retain the title, a further concern is that by his own admission, Anders has been ‘snowed in’ and could be slightly rusty. I have no idea whether the same issues have affected Soren, but wouldn’t have backed him anyway. Sure, his worldwide form is the best of these and the course should suit, but as I’ve written so many times, he’s a very weak finisher with a poor win ratio.