The elite European Tour players, including the defending Tshwane Open champ Charl Schwartzel, will be playing in the WGC-Mexico Championship (previewed here) so the field isn’t very strong in Pretoria for the fifth edition of the co-sanctioned Tshwane Open. For the third year in-a-row, the tournament will be staged at Pretoria Country Club.

Venue

Pretoria Country Club, Waterkloof, South Africa

Course Details

Par 70, 6,830 yards
Stroke Index in 2016 – 71.77

After two years at the Ernie Els designed Copperleaf course in Centurion the tournament moved just a few miles north to the Bob Grimsdel designed Pretoria Country Club two years ago. The course opened way back in 1910 and underwent a major redesign by the Gary Player Group in 2004/05.

Described as tight and tree lined, the course has several ponds on the front nine and a river that runs through holes 13 to 17 on the back nine. The Kikuyu fairways are of average width but tight in places and the small, undulating and elevated greens are Bentgrass.

And I’ve only just seen this Tweet from Pep Angles, suggesting the rough looks brutal this week;

In addition to being the host course for this event for the last two years, Pretoria hosted the Vodacom Championship between 2006 and 2010 on the Sunshine Tour and it was also used six times between 2005 and 2011 as part of the Vodacom Origins pro-am series.

Here’s a full list of course winners on the Sunshine Tour;

2005 – Desvonde Botes (Vodacom origins – 54 holes)
2006 – Charl Schwartzel (Vodacom Championship)
2006 – Vaughn Groenewald (Vodacom origins – 54 holes)
2007 – Richard Sterne (Vodacom Championship)
2007 – Hennie Otto (Vodacom origins – 54 holes)
2008 – James Kingston (Vodacom Championship)
2008 – Tyrone Van Aswegen (Vodacom origins – 54 holes)
2009 – Anders Hansen (Vodacom Championship)
2009 – Brandon Pieters (Vodacom origins – 54 holes)
2010 – Hennie Otto (Vodacom Championship)
2011 – Jean Hugo (Vodacom origins – 54 holes)

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky all four days, starting at 8:30 on Thursday morning in the UK.

First Four Winners

2013 – Dawie van der Walt -21
2014 – Ross Fisher -20
2015 – George Coetzee -14
2016 – Charl Schwartzel -16

What Will it Take to Win the Tshwane Open?

Trevor Fisher Jnr, who was tied for the lead with a round to go two years ago, said this of the venue before the off. “It’s a tricky little course. You’ve got to put the ball in play all the time and the fairways bend a little bit. The greens are quite tight and tough.” And that suggests accuracy is essential but the stats don’t really back that up…

Pretoria Country Club is a tight track and the Kikuyu rough’s tricky to play from. Anyone straying too far from the fairways will often find themselves blocked out by trees so Driving Accuracy should, in theory, be a crucial stat but the last two winners here, George Coetzee and Charl Schwartzel, only ranked 39th and 18th for DA and yet they ranked tenth and second for Driving Distance.

Schwartzel didn’t win 12 months ago because of his power alone. His iron play was excellent and he ranked tenth for Scrambling but he didn’t putt brilliantly. Nobody hit more greens throughout the week and he had this to say about his victory afterwards.

“In the first three rounds I gave myself so many chances. If I had the (putting) stroke I had today, it probably would have been my best tournament ever. It’s just frustrating when you don’t putt very well and you don’t convert, and to make the putts when it counts, that’s even more satisfying.”

Schwartzel went on to reach 16-under-par to win easily by eight strokes and in 2015, the winner, Coetzee (-14), and the runner-up, Jacques Blaauw (-13), were the only two to get to double-digits under-par, so it’s a tricky enough venue.

Coetzee ranked ninth for GIR and first for Scrambling so they look like the main stats to concentrate on.

Is There an Angle In?

I know the South Africans dominate the market but its only right that they do. The homeland players do really well tournament after tournament here and experience of this wonderful little course is a real plus so it’s not surprising to see that five of the top-six last year, and four of the first five in 2015, were South Africans.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

This is a tough little course and it’s sorted the wheat from the chaff in the past. Schwartzel was the favourite last year, Coetzee was a well-fancied 20/1 shot in 2015, and the five winners at this venue in the Vodacom Championship, played over four rounds, were all fairly classy.

Schwartzel, Richard Sterne, James Kingston, Anders Hansen and Hennie Otto all established themselves outside of South Africa on the European Tour and the only man to lose in a playoff here, Louis Oosthuizen, isn’t too shabby either.

This is a venue where the cream rises to the top so concentrating on those towards the head of the market may be the way to go again this year. And experienced/well-disciplined players are worthy of close inspection.

Schwartzel’s experience and course management were key attributes last year as he plotted patiently, using irons off tees on the dangerous holes.

In-Play Tactics

If you don’t fancy taking a short price about one of the better players before the off, keep an eye on the market in-play as a fast start is far from essential. Schwartzel trailed by eight strokes after round before going on to win by six and he was far from the first to start slowly and finish well.

Coetzee trailed by four strokes after rounds one and two in 2015 and he was tied for the lead after round three but the runner-up, Blaauw, was tied for 22nd, five adrift, and trading at around [600.0] before the final round and yet he was matched at odds-on in-running! Had Coetzee not kept his calm well, Blaauw would have walked away with the trophy and others have won here from even further back.

The four 72-hole course winners between 2006 and 2009, as well as Oosthuizen, who lost to Sterne in a playoff in 2007, were all at least five back after round one. Schwartzel, trailed by three at halfway and he led by three with a round to go in 2006 but the other three winners, and Oosty, all came from some way back…

The 2007 playoff protagonists, Sterne and Oosthuizen, trailed by seven and four strokes respectively at halfway and they were still six and four back after three rounds. The 2008 winner, James Kingston, was never nearer than four off the lead at any stage before winning by two strokes and Anders Hansen was five adrift after rounds one and two and two back after round three, before he went on to win comfortably by four strokes.

Blaauw’s flying finish, coupled with the Vodacom Championship stats, certainly suggest it’s possible to come from some way back to win here and backing anyone that starts fast on Sunday, from some way back, might be worth a go.

The par five 12th averaged 4.77 on the week last year and was the second easiest hole on the course and the drivable par four 17th also averaged below par but every other hole on the back-nine averaged over-par so given it’s clearly possible to win from off the pace, anyone posting a score is worth chancing given playing the last six holes in level par or better is by no means a given – especially when there’s a title on the line.

Market Leaders

The 2015 winner, George Coetzee, grew up playing Pretoria Country Club, he’s affiliated to the club, and he recently organised a golf day there that raised R450, 000 to safe a local orphanage. He knows the course intimately and he plays it well. He’s also in great form and he’s a very worthy favourite but he’s far from a safe conveyance in-contention. As evidenced as recently as last week in Joburg…

George started the Joburg Open very nicely with a bogey-free six-under-par 66 and he was soon trading at around the 2/1 mark but an inexplicably poor over-par second round followed and once again, his followers were left disappointed. He then dragged himself back to the fringes of contention by playing the first 12 holes of the third and final round in five-under-par and he then gave his backers real hope with three further birdies in-a-row. It looked like he might just post a score to trouble the leaders as he stood on the 16th tee but it all ended in tears again with back-to-back bogeys. It was all so typically George.

Coetzee is the best player in the field, he’s in very good form, and he’s playing at his home course but anyone backing him has to do so with the understanding that he can disappoint in-the-mix at the drop of a hat.

Dean Burmester is another with solid course form – he was third in 2015 and fourth last year – and he arrives in good form but just like George, Burmester has struggled in-the-mix of late. He led the Investec Cup at halfway last March but shot 73-71 on the weekend to fall to third, three weeks ago he blew a three stroke 54-hole lead at the Eye of Africa PGA Championship, and he was poor on Sunday at the Joburg – falling from tied third and just a stroke off the lead with a round to go to finish outside the top-ten. He’s looking for his first win on the European Tour and he looks too short to me.

Thomas Aiken and Jaco Van Zyl can also be catalogued as players that just don’t win enough and neither man is playing well anyway.

Aiken had a decent January but his last three outings have yielded form figures reading 42-MC-38. He hasn’t played here in this tournament but in seven previous visits he’s finished inside the top-ten six times so it’s a venue that suits him.

Van Zyl is hard to fancy. His form has plummeted since he was beaten in a playoff in Qatar in January and his course form is nothing to write home about either. He’s also yet to win on the European Tour.

Selection

As highlighted above, he’s a bit of a fruit loop in-the-mix but at an industry-best price of 12/1 with the Sportsbook, George Coetzee isn’t too short given how incredibly weak the line-up is.

He will almost certainly flap and fumble if he gets in to contention but the chances are, so will anyone else. Home support helped him to steady the ship two years ago and it can lift him to another home win this year.

Selection:
George Coetzee @ 12/1 (Sportsbook)

I’ll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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