Joburg Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE 2020-21 European Tour season reached its climax at the DP World Tour Championship. Four days later the new season kicks off with the Joburg Open, the first of three tournaments to be played in South Africa.
Twelve months ago Joachim B. Hansen claimed his first European Tour title with a brilliantly composed bogey free round of 67 on the final day of the tourmament. And he proved it was no fluke by adding the Dubai Championship two weeks ago.
The Dane had entered day four a shot behind Wilco Nienaber and with the duo clear of the rest of the field, a two horse race soon developed at Randpark Golf Club.
Local favourite Nienaber, the biggest hitter on the European Tour, turned in 32 to open up a three-shot lead heading into the back nine but Hansen displayed nerves of steel as he birdied the tenth, 12th and 14th to fight his way back to the top of the leaderboard at 19 under.
Nienaber got a remarkable break as his ball stayed dry on the par three 17th but he could not take advantage, and Hansen parred his way home to win by two shots and become a European Tour champion in his 146th appearance.
South African Shaun Norris carded a closing 66 to finish at 16 under, with another home favourite in Brandon Stone, Canada’s Aaron Cockerill and England’s Steve Surry six shots off the lead.
There were tears in Hansen's eyes after he holed the winning putt to complete a long journey to European Tour victory ten years after turning professional. He graduated from the European Challenge Tour in 2012 and 2015 but had a breakout year in 2018, claiming two Challenge Tour victories en route to becoming the first Dane to top the Rankings since Thomas Bjørn 23 years earlier.
The Dane had his best year to date on the Race to Dubai in 2019 as he finished in the top 50 in the rankings and, after securing an impressive top 10 at the BMW PGA Championship last month.
"It's quite emotional," he said. "This is what we work for, you know? The family watching back home. Wilco got in front quite quick, by three shots, and we managed to stick to our game and our plan.
"He's long, he's got some good things with the game hitting it very far and very straight so we knew we had to go out and do our own and do the things we've done the first three days. We succeeded pretty well today.
"I putted really well, almost haven't missed a putt inside six feet and holed a lot of long ones as well."
(Ross Fisher Has Travelled to South Africa)
Most of South Africa’s leading players are in the field this week and the winner is likely to come from one of them.
Still only 21 years of age, Nienaber has the potential to become a global superstar when he learns to harness his enormous power. Like most South Africans, he possesses a wondrous short game but he misses far too many fairways, which means he spends too much of his time playing recovery shots. It was that lack of accuracy that cost him dearly 12 months ago and there have been recent signs that he is learning not to reach for the driver on every par four.
He spent most of last season playing on the Challenge Tour and won the Dimension Data Pro-Am in his native South Africa in May when travel restrictions prevented him from competing in Europe. “I definitely forgot how it felt to win,” he said at the time. "I’m a little bit emotional but I just know it’s the hard work I put in. I like to play attacking golf and I needed to win this tournament.”
Dylan Frittelli has been dividing his time between the European and PGA Tours and has enjoyed considerable success on the other side of the Atlantic, enjoying a top-20 finish at the Houston Open and a tie for 22nd in Bermuda. He also won the John Deere Classic in 2019. Playing on two tours is a difficult balancing act but Frittelli has achieved it with some success, and would love nothing more than to win on home soil.
Justin Harding and George Coetzee are certain to be among the favourites. Coetzee is a five-time winner, with three of his success coming on home soil. His recent form hasn’t been great but he won the Portugal Masters in 2020 and will relish performing in front of his home fans. Harding won the Kenya Open in March and produced a series of fine finishes last season. He is one of the most consistent performers on Tour.
The Joburg Open was won in 2015 by Andy Sullivan, in 2016 by Haydn Porteous, in 2017 by Darren Fichardt, in 2018 by Shubhankar Sharma and in 2020 by Joachim B Hansen. It wasn’t played in 2019.
Wilco Nienaber’s recent form has not been especially eye-catching but he finished eighth at the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final, has a win on home soil to his credit this year, and is ready for his first “proper” victory. Dylan Frittelli has made a decent start to the 2021-22 PGA Tour season and will be looking forward to playing on home soil again.
Randpark is a par 72 measuring 7,506 yards. Founded in 1940, it is tree-lined and features several water hazards. The fairways are tight, which means accuracy from the tee is essential
Dylan Frittelli. Has few weaknesses
Wilco Nienaber. Just needs to find the fairway
Justin Harding. Beautiful ball striker
Players to Follow:
Dylan Frittelli. Class act
Wilco Nienaber. Potential superstar
Justin Harding. Would love a victory on home soil
George Coetzee. Loves playing in South Africa
Outsiders to Follow:
Thomas Aiken. Has been in the wilderness
Jbe Kruger. Looking to find a way back
Pep Angles. Spaniard has shown some flashes of form
Darren Fichardt. Former winner who has had a miserable time of it recently
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