Ben Coley kicks off a brand new season on the DP World Tour with six each-way selections for the Joburg Open, where Christiaan Bezuidenhout is favourite.
2pts e.w. Hennis du Plessis at 25/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Zander Lombard at 40/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Jayden Schaper at 66/1 (Betfred, Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Aaron Cockerill at 150/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Chase Hanna at 150/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Tristen Strydom at 300/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
It is undeniably ridiculous that after the last DP World Tour season finished on Sunday, the new one begins on Thursday. In fact, with two events taking place this week and one of them in Australia, European clocks have the campaign getting under way on Wednesday. Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy might still be drunk by then.
These are the times and the tour remains under pressure, reliant on partnerships like that which it has with the Sunshine Tour and now fully committed to beginning the new year in the Middle East. What else can they do except get straight back to work, and provide for players who operate at a completely different level to those mentioned.
For Sunshine Tour regulars and the Q-School and Challenge Tour graduates, the Joburg Open could be life-changing, or at least set them up for the season ahead. Last year's event was a 36-hole farce but still it did both for Thriston Lawrence, who became a winner without having to win, but kicked on to show us how good he is with a proper breakthrough in Switzerland. Last week he was alongside Rahm and McIlroy in Dubai. It can all be traced back to this.
Curiously, the man at the top of the betting, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, is no longer a DP World Tour member. Focused now on his PGA Tour career, Bezuidenhout lost his playing rights by choice and is in here because of his Sunshine Tour status, yet if he follows Lawrence's lead and takes the title, he'll have his card back whether he wants it or not.
Then there's George Coetzee, who continues to show an admirably relaxed attitude towards life. Coetzee has at times this year prioritised the Sunshine Tour over Europe and in doing so has reminded us that he's a cut above that level, winning twice including as recently as early November. Like Bezuidenhout and now Lawrence, he's a cut above most of these, too.
This trio shape the betting and the home players look worthy favourites to keep a title they've won more often than not, partly because very few proven Europeans are in the field. Romain Langasque leads the challenge and is the only non-South African at shorter than 40/1, as he should be. He's got plenty in his favour and there were better signs last week, but it's been an intense fortnight at the end of a frustrating year, and he might just be out of gas.
That should be no excuse for HENNIE DU PLESSIS and he looks a strong candidate to be the next cab off the rank as far as the locals go.
Du Plessis has enjoyed surely the best year of his career, almost winning the first LIV Golf event and playing superbly for the most part when in action on this circuit.
In fact, he was fourth in DP World Tour scoring average, behind McIlroy, Rahm and Jordan Smith, with Ryan Fox behind. Strokes-gained total is a better metric and he featured highly in that, too, surrounded by the likes of Fox, Smith and Adrian Meronk in seventh.
Now, these numbers undeniably flatter him a little but they do speak to a young player in the form of his life and with improvement still to come, and now that he returns home to South Africa having failed to qualify for the Nedbank Challenge, there's a good chance he's able to bag that first co-sanctioned title.
The golf course this week is new to most of the field, but it is a Jack Nicklaus design and that's good news not just for Coetzee, whose Nicklaus record is outstanding, but also Du Plessis. He's bagged top-10 finishes at every Nicklaus course used on the Sunshine Tour and as an excellent driver, this one ought to suit given the tough scoring conditions we saw on the Big Easy Tour earlier this year.
As for his recent form, eighth in Spain is the last we saw of him on this circuit and that was a tournament won by Rahm at the expense of Min Woo Lee. He's since played the LIV Golf final in Miami and now comes back home to South Africa, where he's been runner-up on his last two visits and is currently on a run of nine top-30s in a row.
This sequence includes seventh and third in the Joburg and SA Opens last year, plus sixth and 25th when the DPWT came to South Africa for a fortnight in the spring. Du Plessis has been banging loudly on the door and I think he's a better player than Oliver Bekker, one deserving of occupying that fourth slot in the market.
Louis de Jager, ZANDER LOMBARD and Wilco Nienaber all feature prominently in the betting and the middle one of the trio is also of interest at 33/1 and bigger.
I reckon he'd probably have won this title last year had the weather and Covid not intervened and that frustrating runner-up finish should guarantee he arrives here with the bit between his teeth, with a poor effort at Sun City easy enough to forgive.
Lombard has now been runner-up twice in this event and in the mix on a third occasion, and he's also contended both at Leopard Creek in the Alfred Dunhill, and when fading to seventh in the Tshwane Open. Outside of the SA Open he's been a persistent threat on home soil and at 27 he remains a player with real potential.
Just last month he followed fourth behind Rahm with 14th at Valderrama to make it four top-20s in eight, and while his Nedbank Challenge display was disappointing, that's the player. He's well capable of bouncing back to form and at his best, his approaches are his main strength – always a plus on a Nicklaus course with pretty wide fairways.
One angle we do have to pursue is the fact that Sunshine Tour Qualifying School has been held here a couple of times and it points to TRISTEN STRYDOM being worth a speculative bet at 200/1 and bigger.
Strydom topped a good field in March 2020, bullying the par-fives along the way, and he'd done something similar when third a year earlier. Nobody in this tournament has a better set of form figures at the course and he's bound to be relishing a return to it and indeed to South Africa, having played DP World, Challenge and Asian tours this summer.
It's fair to say he's done so with limited success, hence being shunted out to massive prices. However it can be really difficult for a young player to take their games beyond the comforting surrounds of home, and I would point out that he was 29th after two rounds of the Open de Espana on his last start at this level.
Having missed a couple of Challenge Tour cuts by narrow margins there have been some signs of encouragement and that was true in Egypt last time, where he defied an opening 75 to shoot a second-round 65 in the latest International Series event. It's not much, but it's another little sign that he's not all that far away.
Coming home is a huge positive, as Strydom landed his first pro win in the South Africa Tour Championship in May, beating the likes of Coetzee, Justin Harding and Nienaber at another Nicklaus-designed course. He won that title by a whopping six shots having been third a week earlier, while if you rewind to March you'll see he was the first-round leader in the MyGolfLife Open won by Pablo Larrazabal.
Eventually 11th in a stronger field than this, we've tangible evidence that Strydom can do what most Sunshine Tour players can't and properly compete with some strong European raiders, who this time are much smaller in number.
Throw that in with his course record and this one-time hotly-touted prospect, who has big expectations of himself, would only need a return to his most recent Sunshine Tour form to go well.
Luke Brown, Rupert Kaminski, Combrinck Smit and Deon Germishuys are among the others with Houghton experience from Q School, the latter having sailed through as an amateur in fact. He's just earned DP World Tour status via the Challenge Tour and, like Bekker this time last year, could celebrate that achievement by going really well in a tournament which could shape his entire rookie season.
At 80/1 this solid ball-striker is considered, but I'll opt for the greater promise of JAYDEN SCHAPER, another who successfully navigated a path to Sunshine Tour membership here.
By that time Schaper had already shown us why many in South Africa believe him to be a huge star in the making, finishing sixth on his SA Open debut, and he's subsequently added 18th in the Joburg Open followed by a fine second place to Bezuidenhout at Leopard Creek, when for a time he looked set to win.
More recently, he's looked to be closing in on a first Sunshine Tour title having lost a play-off for the Fortress Invitational, one of six top-10 finishes in his last eight starts, and last time out he was 10th in the South African PGA Championship where he finished strongly.
That event was won by Coetzee at another Nicklaus design and not for the first time recently, Schaper produced a display of pinpoint accuracy to add to fifth place at the same course last year. Also fourth at Serengeti, he's shown some good signs on Nicklaus layouts and is close to a breakthrough.
Can it come here? Typically, those without DP World Tour membership do struggle given what's at stake, but Schaper has been in the mix for a similar title and looks to have something about him. At 50/1 and upwards, he's worth backing to show it.
Five years ago, Schaper and Germishuys played well in an amateur event held at Houghton, one in which Martin Vorster finished second. Once described as 'the future of South African golf' by mentor Louis Oosthuizen, Vorster is starting to find his feet now, having missed the cut on his pro debut in this event last year.
Back-to-back top-six finishes in two of the best Sunshine Tour events set him up nicely for this and along with Casey Jarvis, these are the young South Africans with apparently bright futures. For now though I'll take Schaper's superior long-game and greater experience, which justify much shorter prices.
It can be difficult to weigh home advantage against proven class but we shouldn't rush to dismiss the overseas contingent, with Marcel Siem among the more interesting options. He's looking for a Houghton double having won at a different layout here back in 2004, and having been hitting it well for a while came through Q School last week.
James Morrison has a good record in the event and across some Nicklaus courses in Europe, but perhaps the standout DP World Tour regulars might be from further afield, with AARON COCKERILL and CHASE HANNA both catching the eye.
Cockerill is around twice the price he was for the event last year despite the fact he's upped his game since. In 2021 he was down at 152nd in the Race to Dubai but having entered this year's Portugal Masters under threat in 111th, he kept his card comfortably by finishing 27th and gaining strokes through the bag.
Before this he'd played well for three rounds in Mallorca and he did so for two of the three in the Dunhill Links, too, following an opening 65 with a round of 81 in that brutal Friday weather, but bouncing back on Saturday. Throw in middle rounds of 65 and 68 in Switzerland and he's in better nick than was the case 12 months ago, when he went on to finish 12th.
He's also added another compelling form line, having been runner-up in Nairobi. Like Johannesburg, the Kenyan capital is at altitude and having contended all week when fourth in this in 2020, that means two of his three DP World Tour top-fives came high up. The other was in Spain this year, underlining his overall improvement.
Also 18th in the SA Open when fifth at halfway, and similarly positioned before a poor weekend at Pecanwood back in March, something about South Africa seems to appeal to Cockerill and perhaps that's why he's here, with his first child due in just a few weeks.
Whether or not he takes inspiration from Adam Svensson's PGA Tour breakthrough, Cockerill strikes me as one who has been unfairly overlooked at three-figure prices and, presumably with a local caddie replacing his wife on the bag, perhaps everything will fall into place.
The same goes for Hanna, who was among the highest-ranked players in this field on the 2022 Race to Dubai.
Granted, that's all down to a trio of top-10s in the spring and he's not been so good since, but 23rd place when last seen in Spain was a much better performance and saw his long-game return. At times it's been outstanding and when something has clicked, he's shown he can run with it.
The time off since is a shame but he does have some nice form in South Africa, where he was third when leading the Dimension-Data Pro-Am and then 12th alongside Cockerill in this event last year. That wasn't his first strong Joburg effort, having been 23rd in 2020, and his first DP World Tour start came earlier that year when he made the cut in the SA Open.
Hanna misses a lot of cuts but his best form has come in bursts, such as three top-10s in five starts earlier this year, and six in eight last summer. In Mallorca last time he played to a top-10 standard over the final three rounds and if he returns from four weeks off hitting the ball as well as he did there, he could make a mockery of these prices.
Scotland's Craig Howie took part in a team amateur event here in 2017 and has a strong record in South Africa so he's of some interest in an event which lacks depth, as are in-form locals Jaco Prinsloo and Pieter Moolman.
Certainly, there's scope for a new name from South Africa to win the title if Bezuidenhout doesn't and it's no guarantee his short-game keeps doing the donkey work for him. With that in mind he can be taken on and Du Plessis in particular really ought to be aiming high in an event like this.
Posted at 1745 GMT on 21/11/22
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.