The South African Open makes a return to Randpark Golf Club for the first time since 2000 and Darren Fichardt, one of several home favourites in the field, can reign supreme in Johannesburg.
It doesn’t feel like two seconds ago when the 2017/18 season concluded at the DP World Tour Championship, but the 2018/19 campaign is in full swing and the fourth event on the calendar will start in South Africa on Thursday.
Over the first two days of the tournament, the 240-player field will tackle Randpark’s two courses – Bushwillow and Firethorn – before the top-70 and ties progress to the weekend to play both rounds on Firethorn, the bigger of the two layouts at 7,504 yards.
Dylan Frittelli, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel are all in action and part of a massive field taking part over Randpark’s two courses – Firethorn and Bushwillow.
The leading 10 South Africans in the current world rankings are among the entries for this prestigious open, with Frittelli (11/1), Grace (also 11/1), Oosthuizen (7/1f) and Schwartzel (18/1) all expected to perform well.
However, there appears to be some real value in world number 160 Fichardt, who could be the man to triumph on the southernmost tip of the African continent.
Fichardt to Win @ 55/1
It is no secret South Africa’s Fichardt enjoys playing on home soil, with two of his five European Tour titles coming in SA, whilst 15 of his 16 Sunshine Tour wins have also been in his native country.
The 43-year-old may not have won on the main European Tour this season but he has chalked up some positive results, with a tie for ninth at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City at the Gary Player GC a highlight.
That result was towards the back end of last season, meaning Fichardt is in good form, and he is one of the few players in the field this week to have come close to winning at Randpark.
He finished in a three-way share of second back in 2000, losing out to Sweden’s Mathias Gronberg by just one stroke, and that experience could prove pivotal across the course of the tournament.
Van Rooyen – Top-Five Finish @ 19/4
Looking at the other South African contenders, Erik van Rooyen almost landed the spoils at Randpark 12 months ago, finishing second at the Joburg Open, losing out to Indian winner Shubhankar Sharma by three strokes.
The 28-year-old struggled to find his best form towards the end of last season but did manage to finish in a tie for 26th at the DP World Championship, a promising result he can build on.
Van Rooyen has also triumphed on home soil, with success at the 2017 South African PGA Championship, and a return to SA could provide the boost needed to end 2018 on a high.
Harding – Top-10 Finish @ 33/10
Justin Harding is another of the South African hopes and although his results in his homeland don’t make for fantastic reading, he is enjoying arguably his best year and should not be discounted.
The 32-year-old has won two titles on both the Asia Tour and Sunshine Tour this term – taking his professional tally to nine – and arrives on the back of a fourth-place finish at the Mauritius Open.
Harding is another that should go well around Randpark and backing a top-10 finish for the world number 81 looks like a smart choice.
Pulkkanen – Top Continental European @ 10/1
Another interesting player in the field is Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen. The 28-year-old, who turned professional in 2013, finished 2017 as the Challenge Tour Rankings winner and some of that form was taken on to the main European stage.
The world number 251 finished fourth at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship before ending up in a share of 10th at the Turkish Airlines Open.
Like Van Rooyen, Pulkkanen also came close to landing all the spoils at Randpark 12 months at the Joburg Open, but ultimately had to settle for a share of third alongside Shaun Norris, a podium finish nonetheless.
Romain Langasque, Matthieu Pavon, Bernd Wiesberger and Pablo Larrazabal are the only four ahead of the Finn in the Top Continental European market and Pulkkanen looks better value than the quartet to finish on top.
Paisley – Top GB & Ireland Player @ 11/2
It is always hard to ignore the defending champion in any tournament but, with the event moving to Randpark, maybe it comes as little surprise to see the attention moving away from Chris Paisley.
The Englishman started off 2018 in style by winning the South African Open, but that triumph came at Glendower GC and a much stiffer challenge is expected this time around.
However, that is not to say the 32-year-old doesn’t have a chance of doing well and he will be aiming to become the first player since Trevor Immelman in 2004 to successfully retain the title.
Paisley did drop off towards the middle of last season but finished the campaign strongly, with two of his four top-10 finishes coming in his last five outings.
Returning to South Africa, the country where his only European Tour title came from, could prove to be exactly what Paisley needs to get things kick-started and he will be one to watch this week.
The challenger to Paisley’s top GB&I crown look like they will come in the shape of compatriot Matt Wallace, who has enjoyed a stellar year.
The 28-year-old has landed three titles in 2018 – the Hero Indian Open, BMW International Open and Made in Denmark – and he is the 31/20 favourite to finish top in this market.
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