The DP World Tour’s second double-header of the new season brings about two of the oldest golf tournaments in the world this week: the South African and Australian Open's.
It’s with the former that we start, as South Africa’s finest head to the colossal Blair Atholl Golf and Equestrian Estate for the 113th staging of the South African Open Championship.
The South African Open was first staged in 1903 and has practically taken place every possible year since, excluding during wartime or the odd schedule change. It became and has remained an active part of the DP World Tour schedule – co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Tour – since 1997.
Legendary South African golfer, Gary Player is the most successful player in the history of his home open championship, winning thirteen titles in a period spanning twenty-five years (1956-1981).
Four-time Open Championship winner, Bobby Locke is next on the list, with nine wins between 1935-1955; whilst in more recent times another national great, Ernie Els had been a dominant force, collecting five South African Open titles between 1992-2010.
Following a successful stretch of events for the English in South Africa, as Andy Sullivan, Graeme Storm and Chris Paisley won three of the four renewals between 2015-2018, the home players have reasserted their dominance; with a different South African golfer taking each of the last five editions.
Louis Oosthuizen began this strong recent run by winning the December 2018 edition at a canter by six strokes and performed strongly in defence of his title in January 2020, finishing 2nd to Branden Grace.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout succeeded Grace later that year, winning almost as impressively as Oosthuizen, with a five-shot win over Jamie Donaldson.
Following Daniel Van Tonder winning the 2021 renewal - that was solely sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour due to COVID-19 restrictions forcing most DPWT players home – Thriston Lawrence succeeded him and capped a magnificent 2022 with a victory here at Blair Atholl.
Lawrence is back in defence of his title this week, hoping to bounce back after his final-round tribulations in last week’s Joburg Open and become the first player to successfully defend the South African Open since Trevor Immelman in 2004.
The South African Open frequently changes host venue and will be staged at the exclusive Blair Atholl Estate for just the second time, after it took up hosting duties last year.
The course is one of Gary Player’s most personal designs, having been built on the site of his old family farm in 2007.
This par 72 is one of the longest courses on the planet and will play to a monstrous 8161 yards this week. However, we can offset this distance somewhat due to the course being at 6000ft altitude, meaning the ball will travel around 7% further in the thinner air and instead play closer 7600 yards.
It is made up of just eight par 4s (414-566(!!) yards), along with five each of par 5s (568-650 yards) and par 3s (197-243 yards). With the course routing seeing the holes travel anti-clockwise around the estate.
Blair Atholl isn’t just sizeable in length but the features all tie in with the big and bold setting. The fairways are very wide at this spacious, parkland course. Though they are protected by huge and often deep fairway bunkers, that are strategically placed in the most obvious driving lines.
Elevation changes are common and sometimes dramatic, both off-the-tee and into the predominantly large, sloping and challenging greens. Which are again protected by intimidating bunkering and a plethora of run-offs.
Several holes sit adjacent to the Crocodile River that winds through the property and comes into play on eleven holes, adding a final element of potential punishment for wayward players around Blair Atholl.
Whilst there may be challenges at every stop, the final stretch here is particularly demanding. The 650-yard par 5 13th is the longest par 5 on the course and is followed by three troublesome par 4s that all measure over 520 yards; two of them (14 and 16) played amongst the three hardest holes on the course last year and the 15th comes in at an eye-watering 566 yards.
The 197-yard par 3 17th is the shortest hole but has one of the smallest greens and is protected on all sides by bunkers long and right, and water short and left.
We close out with the shortest of the par 5s, the 568-yard 18th. Though this hole played as the easiest last year, seeing twenty-three eagles throughout the week, water guards the fairway left and sits short of the green. It’s a fun finishing hole and will provide plenty of drama if the tournament is still up for grabs late on Sunday.
- § SG: Off-the-Tee
- § SG: Approach
- § Par 5 Scoring
It’s tough to draw firm conclusions as to who this course suited last year, as the leaderboard was littered with a variety of contenders. One thing that we do know, due to Thriston Lawrence’s -16 winning score and the fact -10 was enough for a top 5, is that Blair Atholl proved a difficult and worthy host of this historied tournament.
I think that players will need to show quality in most areas but I’m going to side with the strongest ball-strikers this week, especially those who excel with the driver. Winner, Lawrence is a player who fits this bill and it can also be said about a number of other contenders, such as Matti Schmid, Dean Burmester and Hennie Du Plessis, who all finished inside the top 10.
Strong approach play should also be important into the large sloping greens, on which it’s tough to hit the correct spots.
Finally, the par 5s were five of just seven holes to play under par last year, therefore it’s important to make the most of the scoring opportunities that present themselves on those holes.
There are a handful of correlating events that I felt could help us out in finding this week’s South African Open champion.
First up is Gary Player Country Club, host of the Nedbank Challenge. Though a tighter driving course, this is another mammoth Gary Player design played at altitude, where prominent bunkering provides a primary defence.
We stay in South Africa and it’s a Jack Nicklaus course that can assist further. The Club at Steyn City – which hosted the Steyn City Championship last year and Jonsson Workwear Open this – has many similarities, as a long course at altitude, with generous fairways and frequent elevation changes. Matti Schmid and Dean Burmester have both finished top 3 there and top 5 here.
I’ll finish with two events that take place in Continental Europe.
The Porsche European Open at Green Eagle’s North Course always tests players to their limits and is played on one of the longest courses in Europe. Marcel Siem and Jens Fahrbring have had top 5s both there and at Blair Atholl.
Finally, this year’s Andalucia Masters host, Real Club de Golf Sotogrande should also work. Though much shorter than this week’s venue, the course possesses wide fairways and features regular elevation changes, with strong bunkering one of its major defences. Matti Schmid was runner-up there, Marcel Siem finished 7th and Chase Hanna – who was 5th in last year’s South African Open – finished 4th.
There are forecast to be thunderstorms in the build up to this week’s event but fortunately they’re scheduled to disappear before the start of play.
The tournament itself should get some pleasantly warm and sunny conditions, with a persistent 10mph breeze - which could gust at over 20mph - enough to keep the players on their game without turning it into a brutal test.
This week’s South African Open field features many of the same players who teed it up in the Joburg Open last week, with world #85 Thriston Lawrence the top-ranked and only top-100 player in attendance.
Ewen Ferguson and Matti Schmid add some extra depth into the field, whilst there is also a long-awaited and welcome DPWT return for Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, who has made just one appearance in two years on tour (at this year’s Dubai Desert Classic in January) due to a thumb injury and has been admirably open about his mental health struggles off the course.
The leading two players from Q-School, Freddy Schott of Germany and Filippo Celli of Italy make their first starts of the new season.
Additionally, there’s a strong string of South African amateurs stated to tee it up, which includes current #1 amateur Christo Lamprecht, who impressed everyone by sharing a piece of the lead after the first round of the Open Championship at Hoylake in July.
Last week’s Joburg Open winner, Dean Burmester is a strong 6/1 favourite this week, with defending champion, Thriston Lawrence next at 12/1.
I’m going to go a few places down from that top two and to a player who performed well last week, coming directly off the back of his best ever season on the DP World Tour and looks well-placed for a breakthrough win at Blair Atholl, Zander Lombard.
Lombard’s excellent 4th in last week’s Joburg Open came right on the heels of a first ever appearance in the DP World Tour Championship, where he finished a commendable 22nd. This milestone moment for the South African is the result of several contending performances on tour this season.
He first went close on his third start of the year, finishing one-shot behind Daniel Gavins when 2nd in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship. He followed that with a 6th in the Singapore Classic and four starts later he finished a more distant runner-up to Nick Bachem in the Jonsson Workwear Open at Steyn City.
Lombard lost his form through the middle part of 2023 but has come good again towards the back end of the year. He hasn’t missed a cut in his last ten starts and recorded a third 2nd-place finish of the year when finishing four shots behind Matthieu Pavon in the Open de Espana five starts ago.
He hit the ball well last week, looking especially strong in approach. This has been a key strength of his throughout this year, ranking 26th in approach on the DPWT last season. Which should bode well for a performance this week.
Lombard finished a solid 30th here last year, firing every round under par. That 2nd at Steyn City earlier this year suggests he’s capable of much better and a strong book of correlating form is completed by a 5th-place finish in the European Open and 8th in the 2019 Nedbank Challenge.
Based on some excellent pieces of recent form and his promising performance at Blair Atholl last year, the talented Matti Schmid has to have a big chance of claiming that first pro title this week.
Schmid made an encouraging start to 2023, finishing 6th in The American Express on the PGA Tour on his second start of the year. However he was unable to build on that in the U.S, only recording two further top 25s over the next five months, both of which came on the DPWT.
His form started to turn around when he accrued two consecutive top 25s on the PGA Tour at the end of July/beginning of August, in the 3M Open and Wyndham Championship. Though his game has really come to life over the last month.
Schmid was 2nd in the Andalucia Masters four starts ago; an event in which he held a share of the lead entering the final round. It would’ve been easy to be disappointed by the final outcome but he was buoyant afterwards and sounded super-confident about the state of his game.
He carried this positivity over to the PGA Tour two starts later when finishing 3rd in the Bermuda Championship, doing little wrong in defeat and completing his goal of securing playing rights on both tours for 2024.
The German former #10 amateur is the archetypical modern golfer, with a power-heavy ball-striking game. He particularly excels with the driver, which is elite when on song.
This type of game should serve him well at Blair Atholl, as he showed by finishing 4th last year. His runner-up finish in this year’s Andalucia Masters and a 3rd in last year’s Steyn City Championship give us further proof in regards to his suitability to this test.
Hennie Du Plessis
Another one from near the top and a second in-form South African chasing a breakthrough DPWT win, in the shape of Hennie Du Plessis. He’s been very consistent this year and can turn that consistency into a victory at this suitable setup.
Du Plessis has missed six cuts in twenty-one DPWT starts this year and just two in his last fourteen events. He’s turned seven of these efforts into top 25s and recorded three top 10s, including a 2nd in the Jonsson Workwear Open at Steyn City earlier in the year and just three weeks ago he finished an impressive 6th in the Nedbank Challenge; before finishing 21st in last week’s Joburg Open, battling back after a slow start and finishing his week with a final-round 66.
By any measured time period, he has been one of the best ball-strikers in this field over the course of the last twelve months. The driver is the strongest weapon in his arsenal, ranking 3rd on the DPWT last season and he was a solid 36th in approach; a quality of ball-striking that helps him in being the 3rd-best par 5 scorer on the tour.
This level of ball-striking worked wonders for Du Plessis here last year as he finished 9th and has also seen him perform well at Steyn City, where along with his runner-up finish this year he won the Steyn City Team Championship in 2018 on the Sunshine Tour. Two 6th-place finishes at Gary Player Country Club – in this year’s Nedbank and the 2020 South African Open - add further appeal to an already attractive profile.
Talented young German, Freddy Schott’s debut season on the DPWT didn’t quite have the fireworks some expected, but after regaining his tour card in impressive fashion at Q-School a few weeks ago he has the chance to put that right this season. Starting in a place where he’s enjoyed some level of success right back to his amateur days.
Since turning pro in the early part of 2021, Schott has made steady progress up the golfing ladder. He won on the Pro Golf Tour in 2021 and instantly earned an upgrade to the DPWT following his first season on the Challenge Tour last year. Where an excellent run of form in the middle of the year, culminating in a victory in Denmark, helped him to finish 9th on the Road to Mallorca rankings and earned him automatic promotion to Europe’s premier tour.
Last season was more miss than hit, as he finished with more letters than numbers in his form figures, recording just four top 20 finishes and zero top 10s. With that it was admirable how he managed to put all of that to the back of his mind at Q-School, where he sat inside the top 10 after each of the six rounds and finished atop the leaderboard, making an impressive fifteen birdies and an eagle over the last two rounds.
Much like countryman, Schmid, Schott is the modern power-packed pro and despite his underperformance on tour last season he still showed his prowess with driver, ranking 9th.
He finished a solid if unspectacular 43rd here last year and is a player very much comfortable playing in South Africa, having spent plenty of time in his young career in the country. Where amongst other results he finished 2nd in the 2019 South African Juniors International and 3rd in last year’s Vodacom Origins Final on the Sunshine Tour, along with several top 10s in the events co-sanctioned between that tour and the Challenge Tour.
I’m hoping this level of comfort can enable Schott to get his second DPWT season off to a much faster start this week.
I’m going to finish with Ockie Strydom at a huge price. Though looking out of sorts, the South African has become a two-time winner on the DPWT over the last twelve months. With both of those wins coming when in otherwise inauspicious form, he has shown he is a player who doesn’t need to play himself into form and may just find another peak performance at a suitable course this week.
Prior to last year’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, Strydom had just one pro win to his name on the Sunshine Tour in 2019, but that week he majorly altered the direction of his career.
After bursting into contention following a best-of-the-week 63 in round three at Leopard Creek, Strydom impressively held off a series of quality tour performers by two shots to record a memorable victory, earning him a first full crack at the DPWT at the age of 37.
You could’ve been forgiven for thinking this was one of those special one-off victories and that Strydom likely wouldn’t feature near the top of a leaderboard again, at least on this tour, but just four starts into 2023 and after recording finishes of 63-MC-MC on his first three starts of the year, he became a two-time DPWT winner in the Singapore Classic. This time clawing back a four-shot deficit at the start of the final round to shoot a sublime (and another low-round of the week) 63, to win by one stroke.
He performed well again when 4th in the Jonsson Workwear Open three starts later but has seen his form dip immensely since, making just two of his last sixteen cuts.
Having said that, Strydom did play well here last year the week prior to his Alfred Dunhill success, finishing 15th and again showed he is capable of truly remarkable rounds of golf, with his second-round 63 the best round of the week. Considering what he’s achieved with those two victories and how he got them, he looks a massive price to spring another contending performance this week.
You can read all of Jamie Worsley's Golf Betting Tips each week as he previews the action on the PGA, DP World and LPGA tours for us here at Betfred. Keep checking our Golf page for all his thoughts week in, week out from the world of golf...