Golf expert Ben Coley looks ahead to the first event of the renamed DP World Tour and makes Romain Langasque the best bet.
2pts e.w. Romain Langasque at 25/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Brandon Stone at 33/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Zander Lombard at 80/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Ross Fisher at 80/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Robin Sciot-Siegrist at 150/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
A point of order before we begin the South African swing. It is not the DP World Tour because the word 'world' better illustrates what the European Tour had become. It is the DP World Tour because the logistics company, owned by Dubai, is called DP World. If the company was called DP Jupiter, then we'd be heralding the start of the DP Jupiter Tour, despite no events so far scheduled on the gas giant. THE COMPANY IS LITERALLY CALLED DP WORLD. And it is now their tour.
Gladly, the European Tour lives on through its website, europeantour.com, which still has a European Tour logo, and a European Tour schedule. I like to think that this is the consequence of a tech support team with its priorities right, having last week introduced shot-by-shot data to the app. Speaking of the app, am I right to say that unless you download an update, it will remain as it is now, the cherubic Matt Fitzpatrick welcoming you aboard? Join me, comrades, in ignoring calls to update; to welcome in this new era, with Collin Morikawa as its acceptable face.
Right, to the Joburg Open, an event which used to be held across two courses at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Country Club, before coming to Randpark in 2017 and again taking advantage of two courses here. That was to ensure a bumper field made up of players from around the DP World, but with the Asian Tour no longer part of the sanctioning, we were back to just one as JB Hansen got the better of Wilco Nienaber in an exciting finish last November.
The course in question is Firethorn, a long-on-the-card par 71 made shorter by the fact that we're at altitude. It is not as easy as a glance at winning scores may suggest, kikuyu rough as problematic as ever, the second a par-four which plays as a five to the members and is devilishly difficult with one less shot to play with, and a demanding closing stretch strewn with hazards and trouble spots. Indeed the back-nine on the whole is particularly challenging, with the exception of the par-fives at 12 and 14.
It would be fair to say taking advantage of those scoring holes, which include the sixth and short ninth, is vital. Last year, JB Hansen and runner-up Nienaber each played the par-fives in 10-under, a total bettered only by Shaun Norris, who was third. In 2020, when the SA Open was confusingly played here under a Joburg Open format, Branden Grace scored best on Firethorn's par-fives, and romped to the title.
In the absence of Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, it's Dean Burmester who is tasked with leading the way among the South Africans, who are at a definite advantage on home soil. We've seen it time and again through the years, although it should be stressed that we're talking about those who've established themselves on the European Tour. Seldom has a Sunshine Tour member bridged the gap and it remains wide.
Burmester is at the top of his game and lived up to favouritism in the South African PGA three weeks ago, but he's also been busy, and his record here is poor. His first taste of Randpark saw him shoot 81-71 back in 2010, and since then he's gone 19-MC-MC-18, generally relying on the easier Bushwillow until a better effort in 2020.
Yes, he's improved since, and it may well be that he outclasses these, but single-figure prices about a volatile sort who might need a week off are easily ignored. Given that Dylan Frittelli has been hit and miss on the PGA Tour, where he shot 78 last Friday, the market has a nice shape to it.
I'll surprise nobody by suggesting that ROMAIN LANGASQUE is the best alternative to that home duo.
We saw last year that a classy European Tour regular making the trip down has to be respected and Langasque, back to form lately, is certainly one of those. He's emerged from a poor spring and summer to really begin to find form this autumn, doing so just as he needed to in order to retain full status.
Going back to the Dutch Open in September, where he was 10th through 54 holes only to fall to 22nd, Langasque then made bright starts in the Dunhill Links and Open de Espana, led at halfway at Valderrama, and was again prominent in the Mallorca Golf Open before a quiet third round.
After a week off he finished 26th in Portugal, defying a slow start this time, and then spent all four rounds in the middle of the leaderboard as Hansen won in Dubai. There is absolutely no doubt that we need to be upgrading that performance, because scoring there at Jumeirah Golf Estates' Fire Course was far lower than he'd like and meant more quality ball-striking wasn't rewarded in the way it could be here.
Right now, I'm not sure anyone on the circuit, and certainly not in this field, is driving the ball better. Langasque has ranked third, eighth, third and eighth for strokes-gained off the tee in his last four tournaments, and has been excellent since July. Conversely he had been struggling badly with his approaches, but he's been much better of late and was particularly good in Portugal, where for the second event in succession he was fourth best in strokes-gained tee-to-green.
It's the putter that's been the problem, but less so last time, and we might just see some improvement now. Langasque's best putting figures of the season came on similar greens on Kenya, and he putted exceptionally well when last we saw him at Randpark. That was in 2018, when the Frenchman beat everyone bar Oosthuizen to finish runner-up in a stronger field, on what was just his second start after graduating from the Challenge Tour.
His only other visit resulted in a missed cut in 2017, but remember that was a two-course renewal, and Langasque shot an excellent four-under 68 at Firethorn only to make a mess of the Bushwillow assignment. Again, that's evidence he's far better suited to a proper test, and it means he's now 13-under for four rounds where it matters this week.
After a few days practicing in Mauritius, Langasque should be ready to get back at it and this is his best opportunity for many months. Any improvement on the greens and he has a massive chance, especially with some hints that we may see a change from the usual still, sunny conditions, with wind and even some rain in the forecast.
Nienaber is dangerous at the same price but I don't think it's giving much away and the same goes for fellow youngster Jayden Schaper, now that he's been cut. Perhaps then those wanting to unearth the next big thing should consider Martin Vorster, who makes his professional debut having won at Randpark as an amateur earlier this year.
Once described as 'the future of South African golf' by Oosthuizen, whose foundation has helped with Vorster's development, Vorster carded rounds of 64, 65 and 66 here at the beginning of 2021, all at Firethorn, and cruised home after a final-round 70. It's important to understand that the course set-up will have been different, and this is a much bigger task, but he has a lot of talent and we saw Schaper and Nienaber threaten to win similar events last year.
Vorster was recently seen playing some good golf at Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying School, where he missed out on Final Stage by a single shot. That would've meant a handful of guaranteed starts over in the US and the fact he was able to win his pre-qualifier and then make it through First Stage says much about the talent this 19-year-old possesses.
If anything, with the schedule back to normal these fields in South Africa have suffered, and Vorster could hit the ground running on his first start among the paid ranks, with Sunshine Tour membership on the line. No wonder the firm who offered 1000/1 had to rethink, but I have to confess 200/1 would've been my minimum and that's just about all there is left. He's left out as a result.
Back to reality and I make no apologies for siding with BRANDON STONE and ZANDER LOMBARD.
Stone has course form figures of 7-MC-4, latterly when returning from a month away last year to finish strongly and confirm once more that he's so dangerous on home soil.
We saw that again earlier this year, when he dropped down to a Challenge Tour and Sunshine Tour collaboration to cruelly stamp his class on the Limpopo Championship, winning a play-off against three of his compatriots who would've been within their rights to ask why he'd turned up at all.
Stone hasn't done a great deal since, but he started to hit the ball well during the autumn, notably so when 12th in the Czech Masters, and since then has only missed cuts because of his putter. When that's behaved, such as at Wentworth, he's had no issues making the weekend, and this of course is a sharp drop in grade.
Having also made it to Korn Ferry Tour Final Stage, where he stuttered after a good start, Stone looks to have his long-game where it needs to be, which wasn't necessarily the case last year as a red-hot putter hid some problems elsewhere.
Despite that, when he came back to South Africa he found that jolt of improvement, hitting the ball better than anyone only to struggle on the greens behind Hansen. Without question, if everything falls into place he's one of the class acts here, with a Rolex Series title to his name, and he's gone off at shorter prices in stronger fields in the past.
Lombard hasn't quite got over the line yet and can be frustrating to follow, but he too has had his best chances on home soil and loves it here at Randpark.
It's almost a decade now since he won an amateur title here and Lombard has since proven really comfortable on the familiar terrain of Firethorn, finishing 15th in 2018, missing the cut by a shot in the 2020 SA Open, and then last November sitting fifth at halfway and again finishing 15th in what was a better tournament.
Crucially, his form had been poor in the run-up to both of these top-20 finishes, reading MC-MC-MC-MC-53-65-MC as he struggled with a rib injury last time and MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-67-MC-67-MC on the European Tour three years ago.
Now, not only has he gone 26-MC-24 across his last three starts, but commentator Tony Johnstone said he'd spoken to Lombard recently, and he was feeling really good about his game once again. Lombard hinted as much in posting 'The Grind is starting to become fun!!' on Instagram and I suspect he's raring to go over these next three weeks in South Africa.
Lombard was sixth in strokes-gained tee-to-green here last year and his approach play has fired again recently. If he can keep it in play off the tee, another strong performance awaits and maybe, just maybe, his first victory at this level.
Shubhankar Sharma won the first Joburg Open to be held here and he's in some ways similar to Hansen, both of them relying on quality approach work thanks to textbook swings, and capable of running hot with the putter. Though neither is particularly short, they don't overpower courses, and a lot of their best form has come either when scoring is easy for every kind of game, or on tree-lined, traditional courses.
If approach play is key, Darren Fichardt deserves respect despite his age. The 46-year-old won this tournament four years ago, and has just completed a quietly impressive European Tour season in which he ranked first in strokes-gained approach and finished off with a chip-in eagle to keep his playing privileges.
Fichardt rightly called that one of the achievements of his career, having been forced to get by on a limited schedule, and now returns to a course where he was 11th last year and second in the South African Open right back at the turn of the century. There are positives galore and a younger man with the same profile would be shorter in the betting.
I just have a hard time convincing myself he's up to winning again and while it's not unreasonable to assume the same is true of ROSS FISHER, the former Ryder Cup player is an undoubted class act who looks worth chancing.
Last time out, Fisher doubled his second hole in the AVIV Dubai Championship, immediately putting him on the back foot as the lead stretched to nine-under. From there he played solid golf, shooting a three-under 69 in round two which saw him fail in his last attempt to keep hold of his full playing rights.
Fisher now finds himself using a career money exemption, similar to Nick Watney who started the new PGA Tour season finishing 30th in California and then runner-up in the Sanderson Farms. Watney described it as 'an amazing lifeline' and there's an element of last-chance saloon that may in part help explain why he found it within himself to roll back the years.
I can do no more than hope the same applies to Fisher, but there have definitely been signs of encouragement despite some modest-looking form. Back in spring he capitalised on some trademark ball-striking weeks to string together cheques culminating in eighth in Denmark, in summer he was 15th in a Rolex Series event, and moving into autumn he lit it up on day one of the Hero Open, and then sat ninth through 54 holes in Italy.
After that, Fisher finished 35th at Wentworth in a tournament won by Billy Horschel, and then missed the cut on the number at the Dunhill Links, made it on the number in Spain, and was 30th in Portugal. The only really poor performance he's produced lately came at Valderrama, and I can forgive anyone that.
Dubai was doubtless disappointing, but the big picture is that for the second event running his ball-striking was back on-song. That's what he's always been about, and only small improvement would be needed were he to step it up in the short-game department.
On that score, note that he putted well (16th) in Portugal and scrambled well at Wentworth, so it's more about putting everything together than finding the key to an underlying problem. My hope is that he can do so here, on a rare trip to South Africa, where back in 2014 he arrived in poor form and winless in four years only to finish 10th in this event and then win the Tshwane Open.
He's fallen further since, of course, but having contended in half of his 18 appearances in this part of the world, and definitely being the type who can dominate the par-fives, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt at 80/1.
At a similar price, Chase Hanna could be the pick of the Challenge Tour graduates this week but, like Vorster, I appear to have missed the boat and can't advise him at the prices which are still being taken.
The American has an advantage over several others who make the step up, as he's played here before, not once but twice. Last November he received an invite and finished 23rd when 1192nd in the world; in January, he'd also played the course in the SA Open, this time finishing 53rd when even further down the rankings and searching for a path to tour status.
Hanna now has that thanks to a solid Challenge Tour campaign which ended well, and we've also seen him on the European Tour when he bagged back-to-back top-10 finishes this summer. His iron play was exceptional on both occasions and that bodes well for his return to Randpark, where he was more dependent on the putter a year ago.
Having also been third in the Dimension Data Pro-Am, a massive Sunshine Tour event which is now co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour and was won by Nienaber, Hanna ought to be confident of a strong start to the season. The European Tour ended with an American on top, and perhaps the DP World Tour will begin in a similar fashion, but I wanted 100/1.
Instead, I wonder whether ONDREJ LIESER has been underestimated at a standout 200/1, with the 150/1 which is available elsewhere also considered good value.
The pick of the 2021 Challenge Tour graduates are priced up at 40 and 50/1 this week, yet the standout performer from 2020 is out with the washing. A year of course is a long time, but Lieser played on the Challenge Tour a couple of months ago, finishing 12th having led at halfway.
That suggests to me that were he to have played a full campaign at that level, he'd probably have graduated again with little fuss, and that we therefore ought to take him a little more seriously despite the slightly madcap methods he employs.
If alone that isn't much to go on, then it's also worth saying he shot four solid enough rounds in Mallorca last time, before that he was sixth at halfway and finished 19th behind Kristoffer Broberg in the Dutch Open, and he was third following the first round of the Czech Masters where he featured in a marquee group.
No doubt it was a pretty terrible summer for the Prague native, but he's come out the other side of the tunnel judging by his recent efforts, and while this is his first start in South Africa, he went 33-30 in Kenya when returning from a long break in the spring.
There are definitely negatives, such as his volatile approach play, but Lieser won two Challenge Tour events having also won twice on the Pro Golf Tour. In this company and having played his best golf of the year lately, he's worth a speculative dart.
Finally, the outsider I like most is ROBIN SCIOT-SIEGRIST.
This capable left-hander looks to have suffered a dip in form but back-to-back missed cuts both came by a stroke or two, and before that he'd made six in succession, catching the eye with strong starts in England, Switzerland and Spain.
His form here is also potentially misleading, as while missing the cut in the 2020 SA Open, he in fact shot a three-under 68 at Firethorn only to struggle at Bushwillow. His sole round here included seven birdies despite playing the par-fives in level and offered plenty of promise.
Eighth in Mauritius previously and having shown promise in Kenya, his form in Africa is better than it first appears and he's a player I'm quite fond of, one whose best form tends to come courtesy of strong approach play and good putting. That's the Hansen formula and Sciot-Siegrist, who should welcome tougher conditions, can go well.
Posted at 2030 GMT on 22/11/21
We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.