Joburg Open preview and best bets

Joburg Open preview and best bets

Golf expert Ben Coley landed a 1-2-3 on Sunday. Get his best bets for the Joburg Open, as the new DP World Tour season begins.

Golf betting tips: Joburg Open

3pts e.w. Christiaan Bezuidenhout at 16/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

2pts e.w. Zander Lombard at 28/1 (BoyleSports, bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Jayden Schaper at 40/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Adri Arnaus at 80/1 (BoyleSports, bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

0.5pt e.w. Thomas Aiken at 250/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

As has become customary, the new DP World Tour season begins just hours after the last one ended, this time with a stunning victory from PGA Tour-bound Nicolai Hojgaard as Rory McIlroy took home a fifth Race to Dubai.

There is a strong argument that some kind of break would be to everyone’s benefit, but we’re largely dealing with players who can’t be too fussy. This co-sanctioned event, running alongside the Australian PGA, is a career-changing opportunity for so many – just ask Dan Bradbury, who won the title playing on an invite last year.

Key to solving it is to establish which, if any, of the class acts from South Africa will step up on what they’ve been doing lately. It will be needed, even at this level, after a disappointing campaign for Charl Schwartzel, and a tame return to the DP World Tour for both Branden Grace and Dean Burmester of late.

This trio make up a LIV Golf team that was thumped in the latter stages of their team championship finale and it’s quite difficult to get a handle on them.

Once upon a time Schwartzel would’ve been a very skinny price for this, his hometown event and one he’s won twice; Burmester meanwhile seldom plays poorly at home, and Grace hasn’t forgotten how to win when a chance comes along. Victory for any one of them, awkward though it may be, certainly couldn’t be called a surprise.

That said I found it quite difficult to drum up enthusiasm for any of them bar perhaps Schwartzel, who at 40/1 demands a second look on class grounds. He’s about one-in-10 in terms of strike-rate on home soil over a 20-year period and ninth place in last year’s SA Open, when selected on these pages at 28/1, is a decent form line.

Still, he laboured to 38th on LIV’s individual standings, a poor effort however you dress it, and after some time off might be happy to sharpen up for next week’s event, held at a course where he used to live and the one big South African title he’s still to win.

I’d rather get a look at Schwartzel’s game before suggesting we give the former Masters champion the benefit of considerable doubt and wouldn’t mind taking shorter odds following a promising performance here, in the right circumstances of course.

That’s for next week but here in Joburg, the man to beat is CHRISTIAAN BEZUIDENHOUT, who for my money ought to be favourite and can land one for fans of the nappy factor, having recently become a dad.

Third here last year, that was Bezuidenhout’s first look at Houghton and puts him at an advantage over the other three, and having won three times in his last eight starts on South African soil, he deserves a little more respect.

Bezuidenhout’s price is explained by the fact he’s endured a bit of a down year, but he still comfortably kept his PGA Tour card, and sixth place at the Sanderson Farms is one of the strongest pieces of recent form on offer.

As you might expect, it came courtesy of quality approach play (seventh) and a killer short-game, Bezuidenhout’s weakness being the driver, and while not so good at the Shriners thereafter he did close with an excellent 65 in which he made eight birdies and one bad mistake off the tee.

With Bradbury and Sami Valimaki having engaged in their own private battle last year, strong approach play seems the probable key to Houghton, which will play as a par 70 after the third hole was changed from a five to a four.

That’s Bezuidenhout’s bread and butter and with plenty of shorter, accurate drivers in behind that more powerful front two, I wouldn’t expect this relatively short course (just over 7,200 yards but at altitude) to place the same demands upon the field as Blair Atholl might in next week’s SA Open, and Leopard Creek after that.

To my eye it looks the best fit for Bezuidenhout and while he did go through a difficult summer, that can be put down to a change in coach. Now working with Jeff Smith, he said in Mississippi that he felt he’d been playing better than his results, and he comes here without any pressure as a non-DP World Tour member whose goal is simply to win.

Johannesburg is Bezuidenhout’s home and, free from the strain of fighting for his swing on the unforgiving PGA Tour, he can complete another leg of the big South African events.

Thriston Lawrence has quickly become prolific and merits respect, but as with Romain Langasque I just wonder what effect Sunday might have had on him. Both came agonisingly close to securing PGA Tour cards, their respective bids to do so coming down to the 72nd hole, and starting the entire process again has to be difficult.

Langasque’s sustained run of poor approach play is just as big a concern so I’ll side with ZANDER LOMBARD instead, steadfast in my belief that he can win multiple titles at this level.

I was a bit surprised to read that Lombard recently played his 200th DP World Tour event, making him a longstanding maiden, but it’s also a nod to the fact that he’s kept his head above water for the most part, earning back his card in four of the last five seasons.

Undoubtedly, 2023 was his best yet, earning seven figures for the first time and finishing runner-up on three occasions, doubling his career tally. The last two months have also produced arguably his best yet in terms of consistency, a sustained run of good form capped by 22nd in the DP World Tour Championship.

There, for the fourth event running, Lombard’s approach work improved, and it was his best driving display since February, so his long-game – which would’ve been good enough to win the Open de France had he holed a putt – looks in excellent condition.

Streaky on the greens, as he showed with an excellent fortnight in Spain soon after a horror show in France, anything like his best and he can take care of some unfinished business. Lombard was second at halfway and closing in on Lawrence when the 2021 edition of this event was cut to 36 holes, a bitter pill for him and his backers to swallow.

Considerably improved since, he ranked third in the tee-to-green stats here last year and can produce something similar en route to a contending performance, perhaps going one place better than when second on his last start back home.

Hennie du Plessis is more reliable from tee-to-green and is an obvious alternative at 25/1 if your own patience in Lombard has been pushed beyond breaking point, but like Adrian Otaegui he can be hopeless over short putts and that’s not a risk I want to take on board.

Instead, ADRI ARNAUS can be chanced at massive odds for one of his talent and however he plays, he’s considered outstanding value at 66/1 and bigger.

It has been a really disappointing season for Arnaus, who less than two years ago looked a potential Ryder Cup candidate, but two recent top-20s give him something to build on as he heads to South Africa for a fresh start.

In nine appearances here, Arnaus has twice been second along with two further top-10s, and while I’d probably prefer to be backing him at either of the following two venues, which are more vulnerable to his power, he does have plenty of form on shorter, narrower courses, such as second at Valderrama and in Kenya.

Right now the driver would be the biggest worry but he did rank ninth off the tee in Spain, and it’s his approach play which marks Arnaus down as someone who might have turned a corner. Never really his strength, he gained five strokes from just two measured rounds in the Dunhill Links, then did the same when missing the cut in Qatar.

That’s seriously eye-catching in my book and with seven good putting weeks in his last eight, together with that strong driving performance in Andalucia, there’s certainly enough encouragement to believe what Arnaus says – that ‘technical things (have) started to click’ recently.

Certainly, he’ll be motivated by having missed the DP World Tour Championship, where he’d have been bidding for a fourth consecutive top-10 finish. Arnaus is now a Dubai resident and that’s the sort of company in which he belongs. Being forced to sit and suffer might just be the jolt he needs.

At slightly bigger prices, his compatriot Santiago Tarrio could be a threat if he keeps putting well, while Shaun Norris has gone 3-3-3-18 in this event on his last four appearances and, a regular contender on the Japan Tour lately, it’s no wonder there have been nibbles around at the opening show of 100/1.

He was close to making the staking plan but at more than twice that price, I’ll chance THOMAS AIKEN.

This three-time DP World Tour winner has rather disappeared off the map in recent years but there have been extenuating circumstances, first the arrival of his second daughter which left his wife dangerously ill, and then a hurricane which destroyed their home in the Bahamas.

Just as they were getting things together along came Covid plus more health issues of his own, and he’s almost played as many events this year as he did from when the pandemic began in 2020 to the end of 2022.

In general he’s not been much of a factor, but ninth place on home soil in the SDC Championship in March was a good effort and so was 15th in Qatar last time, where he kept on fighting until perhaps predictably showing a bit of contention rust during Sunday’s final round.

“I haven’t played that badly,” was his halfway assessment in Doha, where he held the lead at one point.

“I’ve been consistent, made a lot of cuts, but either I’ve had a really good ball-striking week and the putter hasn’t quite been there, or I’ve had a good putting week and I’m just too far away from the hole.

“It’s getting a little tougher to play in your forties, but I still feel like I can win out here. I just need the right golf course. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to pick and choose my courses this year.

“I’ve played a lot of courses I would normally not play, but this is definitely one where I’ve always done well in the past.”

As he alluded to there, Aiken turned 40 this summer, a major life event which has occasionally sparked a player back into form, and there have certainly been good signs since then when it comes to his old staples of driving accuracy and quality approach work.

Just like Bezuidenhout he’ll surely find that Houghton is his best chance during this Sunshine Tour swing and it’s hugely encouraging that he got better as the week went on for 30th place last year, when in general his game hadn’t been in particularly good shape and he arrived off successive missed cuts.

This time he can draw real encouragement not only from Qatar but from three of the four rounds in Spain before that, so at the very least I could see him challenging the places at massive odds.

At the other end of the age and experience scale, Luca Filippi has enjoyed a breakout autumn and could go well but I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s as promising as some of the youngsters we’re used to seeing make names for themselves in these co-sanctioned events.

One of them, Casey Jarvis, has attracted money but he was going off twice the price on the Challenge Tour recently, and I think JAYDEN SCHAPER offers considerably better value on this occasion.

Schaper threatened to win a strong Kenya Open for us back in March and went on to produce several more good performances, including when 16th in the Barbasol Championship on the PGA Tour.

Although a little quiet since, he’s continued to hit the ball well and all three missed cuts since then have been by a single shot, together with 56th in Prague, 37th in the Dunhill Links, and then 36th at a breezy Doha where his short-game showed up once more.

Neat and tidy off the tee, Schaper was 18th here last year to demonstrate his suitability to Houghton where, like Filippi, he had previous experience as both an amateur and at Q-School.

The only real negative is that his driving stats were poor when we last saw him, but that’s based on rounds in the wind under links or at least exposed conditions. He’s bound to relish being back home having comfortably kept hold of his DP World Tour card in the end, and it could be time for this potential star to kick on.

Posted at 1900 GMT on 20/11/23

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