2023 South African Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
It is a brute of a golf course that can be stretched to measure a mind-boggling 8,161 yards. It has five par fives - and four of them measure in excess of 600 yards. The opening hole is 636 yards long, the second is par five measuring 502 yards, the fifth is 606 yards, the 10th is 641 yards and the 13th is 650 yards long. Oh, and then comes the 14th, a par four measuring 524 yards, followed by the 15th, a 566-yard par four and the 16th, a mere 526 yards.
So you can be sure of one thing - whoever wins this tournament is going to have to bring their A-game to the property.
And the good news is that there is going to be a quality field in attendance. The likes of Ewen Ferguson, Dan Bradbury, Marco Penge and Freddy Schott will be looking to deny a home win, while Scotland’s Scott Jamieson will be hoping for a slightly less eventful season than the one that just finished, when he needed a tied third finish at the Qatar Masters to keep his card.
It has been a proper rollercoaster ride for Jamieson. He turned professional after representing Scotland in the Eisenhower Trophy in 2006 and won twice on the PGA EuroPro Tour in 2009.
After finishing first on the EuroPro Order of Merit in 2009 he graduated from the European Challenge Tour in 2010.
His first and only European Tour title came at the 2013 Nelson Mandela Championship , which was played over only 36 holes after severe weather conditions throughout the week caused lengthy delays.
He came close to securing his second European Tour title and a first Rolex Series win at the 2017 Nedbank Golf Challenge, ultimately finishing one shot behind Branden Grace. But it has all been something of a struggle since then. He will hope to continue his Qatar form and get the new season off to a positive sport.
But this is a golf course that should be made for Marco Penge and Wilco Nienaber.
Penge won the Open de Portugal and the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final to secure his DP World Tour card.
So why should Blair Atholl Golf Club suit his game? During the Challenge Tour season the 25-year-old averaged an astonishing 341.67 yards from the tee. He also hits 54.35% of fairways and 75.93% of greens in regulation. If he does have a weakness it is on and around the greens. He averages 34 putts per round and only gets up and down from the sand 33.33% of the time.
But he is a thrilling player to watch as he only knows one way to play and that is to attack.
And the same is true of Nienaber. Still only 23, he has struggled to live up to his promise but if he ever learns to harness his incredible power he is going to take some stopping.
His only victory to date came at the Dimension Data Pro-Am on the Challenge Tour. He finished in a tie for second at the Abu Dhabi Challenge in April and tied fourth at the ISPA Handa World Invitational but missed too many cuts.
I believe this could be a memorable season for Ewen Ferguson.
One of three Scots in the Great Britain & Ireland team at the 2015 Walker Cup at Royal Lytham, he beat Maverick McNealy - the World Amateur Number Two at the time - in the first-day singles.
Playing as an amateur on the Challenge Tour in 2016, he made the cut at both the Turkish Airlines Challenge and the Montecchia Open by Lyoness before turning professional and making his DP World Tour debut later that season in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he also made the cut.
He recorded three runner-up finishes on the Challenge Tour in 2021 as he finished eighth on the season-long Road to Mallorca Rankings, earning promotion to the DP World Tour for 2022.
Ferguson claimed his maiden Tour title with a one shot victory at the 2022 Qatar Masters, overturning a three-stroke final round deficit and birdieing the 72nd hole to win in Doha. Later that season, he went on to become the first Scotsman to win more than once in a single season since Paul Lawrie in 2012 when he was victorious at the ISPS HANDA World Invitational.
And he has just completed another fine season that included seven top-10 finishes.
It was won in 2015 by Andy Sullivan, in 2016 by Brandon Stone, in 2017 by Graeme Storm, in January 2018 by Chris Paisley, in December 2018 by Louis Oosthuizen, in January 2020 by Branden Grace, in December 2020 by Christiaan Bezuidenhout, in 2021 by Daniel van Tonder and last year by Thriston Lawrence.
Blair Atholl Golf Club was designed by Gary Player, measures more than 8,000 yards and is a par 72. It features 11 water hazards and large rolling greens
South African Open Betting Tips, Picks & Form Guide
Ewen Ferguson has had a wonderfully consistent season on the DP World Tour. The only thing that has been missing is a win and he would love to put that right this week. I am really excited to see how Marco Penge fares, and this golf course should be made for a man who routinely hits the ball into the middle of next week.
Ewen Ferguson. Class act
Marco Penge. Sure to attack
Thriston Lawrence. Could be the best bet for a home win
South African Open Five to Follow
Ewen Ferguson. Beautiful swing
Marco Penge. A monster!
Thriston Lawrence. Loves playing on home soil
Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Brilliant ball striker
Scott Jamieson. Looking to get things going early
South African Open Five Outsiders to Watch
Wilco Nienaber. Must make the breakthrough at some point
Brandon Stone. Has been in the doldrums
Matteo Manassero. Back in the big time
Freddy Schott. Exciting German
Ross Fisher. Still has his moments
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