Joburg Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
HAYDN PORTEOUS returns to his homeland to defend the Joburg Open title at the splendid Royal Jahannesburg and Kensington Country Club - and if he doesn't win, the odds are stacked heavily in favour of one of his countrymen doing the business.
Charl Schwartzel won here in 2010 and 2011, followed by Branden Grace in 2012, Richard Sterne in 2013 and George Coetzee in 2014 before England's Andy Sullivan bucked the trend by winning in 2015.
Of course, Schwartzel and Grace have bigger fish to fry these days, spending much of their time on the PGA Tour. But there are some brilliant young South Africans in the field. Cream of the crop is Brandon Stone, already a two-time winner on the European Tour. Stone is a wonderful prospect, with many judges convinced that he is destined for the very top of the professional game.
The 23-year-old won the South African Open in January last year in only his second start on the European Tour and picked up his second victory in December in the Alfred Dunhill Championship, beating fellow South African Richard Sterne by six shots. He is 5ft 11in and weighs 11st - it is solid muscle and Stone hits the ball a long, long way. He is a brilliant iron player and, like so many South Africans, possesses a magical touch on the greens.
While Stone may be the brightest prospect in South Africa, there is every possibility that Jordan Smith could turn out to be his English equivalent. Having won the Challenge Tour order of merit last season, Smith has come out of the starting gates on the big boys' tour like a scalded cat. Most graduates take time to find their feet. Not Smith.
He performed brilliantly in finishing third at the South African Open in company with Rory McIlroy and confirmed his massive potential with another great performance at the Dubai Desert Classic. Smith has a beautifully compact golf swing and admits that he is loving life on the European Tour. McIlroy advised him not to fall into the trap of playing too much tournament golf, but while he is playing so well why wouldn't he want to compete every week?
Smith will eventually find his own pace but he is riding the wave just now and don't be surprised to see him win sooner rather than later.
It has been encouraging to see Coetzee showing renewed signs of life again. He is an immensely gifted competitor who had a dreadful time of it in 2016. There are few players in the world who putt as well as Coetzee does, but he has had some awful struggles with his chipping and pitching around the greens. Like Martin Kaymer, Coetzee will always opt for the putter when he can. But after a huge amount of work during the off-season, the South African finally seems to be ironing out those problems.
He is a terrific ball striker and has the game to win anywhere. And, of course, he has a good record on home soil.
Speaking of struggles, England's Eddie Pepperell lost his playing privileges at the end of last season. He promptly headed straight off to the qualifying school and promptly won his card straight back. Pepperell will have seen the progress made my Tyrrell Hatton and will know that he should be at the same level. He took his eye off the ball and the events of 2016 came as a wake-up call for him. This is a young man who should be winning tournaments, not scratching around at the wrong end of the Race to Dubai. This is probably a make-or-break season for him, and your correspondent's money is on Pepperell coming out the other side, winning his first tournament in 2017 and making to a different level.
Other players worth keeping an eye on are Jaco van Zyl, who has a swing and rhythm to die for, and Scotland's Marc Warren. It is scarcely credible that Van Zyl is still searching for his first European Tour title. He seldom misses a fairway and hits an awful lot of greens in regulation, but putting remains his Achilles heel. If he can ever sort that out then there is no limit to what this man can achieve. Warren is something of an enigma, a man who is capable of going very, very low but who struggles to put four good rounds together.
To Win: George Coetzee. Time to show young upstarts a thing or two
Each Way: Jordan Smith. Brilliant young prospect
Each Way: Brandon Stone. Destined for BIG things
George Coetzee. Almost back to his best
Jordan Smith. Right at home
Brandon Stone. Terrific ball striker
Eddie Pepperell. Has learnt his lesson
Soomin Lee. Yet another fantastic South Korean
James Morrison. Underrated English golfer
Haydn Porteous. Another fabulous young South African
Jaco van Zyl. Fabulous swing
Marc Warren. Can he put four good rounds together?
Paul Dunne. Still looking for his best golf
Tags: european tour
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