Wilco Nienaber is fancied to go well at Sun City
Wilco Nienaber is fancied to go well at Sun City

Golf betting tips: Preview and best bets for the SA Open at Sun City

The Sunshine Tour's SA Open is live on Sky Sports this week, and golf expert Ben Coley has a range of selections.

Golf betting tips: SA Open

2pts e.w. Wilco Nienaber at 28/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1.5pts e.w. Daniel van Tonder at 40/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Louis de Jager at 50/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Lars van Meijel at 125/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. David Drysdale at 125/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Christiaan Burke at 250/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

The DP World Tour began with chaos as players awoke last Friday to news of travel bans in response to the discovery by South African scientists of a new Covid variant. It became clear that UK players had to withdraw from the Joburg Open immediately if they wanted to make it home in time to avoid a long and expensive quarantine. Withdrawing was the easy part: caddies and players have since told stories of complicated journeys through various territories in attempts to beat Sunday's 4am deadline.

Others who stayed then began the third round of a tournament already shortened to 54 holes, only for that round to be abandoned and an official result declared at the 36-hole stage. For Thriston Lawrence, that was enough for a life-changing win; for DP World Tour membership this year and next, and a major debut in the Open Championship, all without having to answer the questions which would have been asked had even just one more round been possible.

While Lawrence was left to unpack what must have been a surreal moment, others from further afield now turned their attentions packing up and getting home. On Saturday night, European Tour players received a letter telling them a chartered flight from DP World had been refused permission to land in Dubai, which owns DP World. Come Sunday, the picture was still unclear, except to say most of those who ventured to South Africa with hopes of a strong start to the new season have been left badly out of pocket, many of them still unable to go home to their families.

Some of them chose to stay behind and whether or not Sky Sports' production team is part of that, the UK broadcaster will show live coverage of this week's SA Open, despite the fact it is no longer sanctioned by the DP World Tour. This is now a Sunshine Tour event only, albeit a strong and prestigious one which features defending champion Christiaan Bezuidenhout, ranked higher in the world than any member of last week's field.

Bezuidenhout the man to beat

Backing the class act in events like this should always be considered. Down the years, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel have returned home and bossed matters, as have Branden Grace, George Coetzee and one or two others alongside them. Bezuidenhout is the best of the bunch and he was a five-shot winner here at Sun City a year ago, landing an illustrious double having captured the Alfred Dunhill Championship a week earlier.

The trouble is, he was in better touch then, and built his performance on quality approach work. Right now, that approach work is misfiring, or at least it has the last two times we've seen him, and a modest 32nd in Dubai leaves him with questions to answer. This is hyper-critical analysis of a player whose wider body of form is the best here, but at 6/1 and with the pressures of defending to deal with, best to look closely for potential areas of weakness.

Dean Burmester was a shade disappointing in Joburg but could do better at a course which he prefers, however Dylan Frittelli is more interesting, reflected by the gap between them in the market having narrowed. Frittelli had started very well at Randpark and can be excused a poor second round given the news that emerged between the two, which surely meant that a good deal of the morning wave in particular were distracted as they worked out what to do next. Yes, that's easier if you're from South Africa, but Frittelli has been based in the US for a long time now.

With Garrick Higgo still misfiring, Shaun Norris the type to run a good race in defeat and Johannes Veerman having something to prove at Sun City, it's the second wave of the market which appeals and, to be frank, I've found it hard to leave out Brandon Stone. His ball-striking was solid at Randpark and his poor finish to the second round probably reflects that he'd found out the tournament had been cut to 36 holes. Stone had birdied three of his final four holes the night before, and bogeyed three of his final four holes when returning to the course.

That said, Stone finished 60th of 71, 66th of 70 and 69th of 70 at Sun City in the Nedbank Challenge. Last year's 32nd was a welcome step up but he was in red-hot form at the time, and it's just not a course he appears to have cracked. He'll keep on trying, his attitude fabulous, but I would've wanted to see more in Johannesburg as well as here in 2020.

Zander Lombard meanwhile was the halfway leader here in 2019, the renewal of the Nedbank which was at the time the richest event on the European Tour. But having faded badly over the weekend, his record at Sun City now shows five of 11 rounds have been 77 or higher, including each of his last three. That's a lot of bad golf and while his frustration at finishing second last week could work in his favour, it could also see him play his way out of things fast.

I'm left with WILCO NIENABER, who is available at a similar price to the Joburg Open in what's a plainly shallower field, and does look to me to have the game for this course.

Although there's no set formula — hence Nienaber being in the same preview as David Drysdale, who I'll come to later — we've seen many of the best drivers in Europe and beyond thrive here. Sun City was always Lee Westwood's patch, but Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, Ernie Els and Robert Allenby are also past champions. Fleetwood led the field in strokes-gained off-the-tee here in 2019.

Nienaber in fact didn't drive the ball as well as he can when 11th in last year's SA Open, instead relying on some of the best approach work of his burgeoning career. Combining the two, he hit the ball to an extremely high standard and just needed a little more help from the putter to challenge the places.

Wilco Nienaber is fancied to go well at Sun City
Nienaber finished 11th here last year

A year on and he was the best driver in Joburg last week, gaining almost two strokes per round and missing stacks of chances. Strictly speaking it's the best he's ever driven the ball on what was the European Tour, though we have to make allowances for the fact statistics were collected by hand and not for the entire field. In such instances I tend to take the view that rankings themselves are broadly indicative, the specific numbers less reliable.

It certainly seems fair to assume Nienaber was indeed the best of the bunch off the tee and having played the six par-fives in six-under, he did what we might've expected only to struggle a little on the greens. It was nevertheless a decent platform and Sun City, a considerably longer course, will depend much on who can take advantage of its four par-fives which can all be reached in two by one of the biggest hitters in the sport.

We know by now we're buying volatility here but Nienaber's putter is unlikely to stay cold for long, and already in just a handful of starts on South African soil he's won the Dimension Data Pro-Am, one of the strongest non-DP World Tour events. The SA Open is in precisely that category this week and he's good enough to add his name to an illustrious roll of honour.

If driving the ball well is key to Sun City, then DANIEL VAN TONDER ought to be on the shortlist and he's the next best.

Van Tonder won for us in Kenya back in the spring, and the circumstances here are similar. One week before that victory, he'd driven the ball especially well but misfired in other departments and failed to make the weekend only narrowly. At Randpark, the same was true: in fact both his driving and approach play were of a very high standard.

Daniel Van Tonder was a 45/1 winner to cap an excellent March
Daniel Van Tonder was a 45/1 winner for us in March

Whether or not he'll find the necessary short-game improvements to contend is hard to predict, but Van Tonder is a course winner having landed the Royal Swazi Open, and has also been fourth here in the Sun City Challenge.

With five wins in his last 15 starts in Africa, he's become prolific lately and it might've been more, as twice back in the spring he was runner-up in strong Sunshine Tour events. Having finished 19th in Dubai two starts ago and then hit the ball far better than he scored upon his return home, Van Tonder looks a serious threat if he can build some confidence early on with the putter.

Beyond Van Tonder we're quickly among players who are yet to establish themselves beyond South Africa, which of course may not prevent them winning this. But LOUIS DE JAGER's form at a higher level stacks up and he's looked close to a career-best win for a couple of years now.

De Jager is a five-time Sunshine Tour winner, including both in tough conditions and here albeit on the adjacent Lost City layout, which is also designed by Gary Player. His record on the signature course is equally strong, with second place in the Sun City Challenge one of three top-sixes which came before he took 14th behind Bezuidenhout last year, costing himself a top-10 finish with bogeys at the final two holes.

That was a big effort considering his opening 75 and De Jager's brace of 69s at the weekend made him the third best scorer in the field. He also ranked third in strokes-gained off-the-tee, 13th in approaches and 14th around the greens, but gave up too much ground with putter in hand. That's a club which at times during his career has been his biggest weapon.

De Jager's form coming in was poor, having finished 42nd and missed the cut in the two previous South African events. This time, he's followed 26th place in Mallorca with third in the South African PGA and then 32nd last week, scoring well on the par-fives and all thanks to similarly impressive long-game stats to those he produced in Spain.

A lofty 17th in strokes-gained off-the-tee on the European Tour last season, De Jager's iron play has really clicked lately and if that continues, he looks sure to go well. His chance has been strengthened by the misfortune of others and looks better than the odds.

This trio of South Africans make serious appeal, but I must confess to also having my head turned by some of their young compatriots with seemingly bright futures. Casey Jarvis for instance has achieved record-breaking things as an amateur, Martin Vorster showed some signs of encouragement on his first start as a professional last week, and Deon Germishuys has already shown a real fondness for this difficult golf course.

The two I'm most intrigued by remain amateurs, namely Christiaan Maas and CHRISTIAAN BURKE, available at 200/1 and 250/1 respectively.

Maas modelled his swing on Adam Scott and Tiger Woods, and among his long list of excellent amateur performances is second place here at Sun City earlier this year. He's won six titles in 2021 and was 12th when stepping up to the Sunshine Tour a month ago, just a couple of places behind last week's winner, Lawrence.

Burke meanwhile gained internet notoriety earlier in the year when he shot a 16-under round of 56. It's been a breakthrough season for the youngster, who won on the Big Easy Tour last week, as he'd done in June. While low-level stuff, those are wins in pro tour events and he was 15th, just behind Maas, on his Sunshine Tour debut.

"This win means a lot to me, especially going into next week, the SA Open because it has given me a lot of confidence. I’m really looking forward to it," he said last weekend, after a victory which hasn't yet found its way onto some popular form databases and may have gone somewhat unnoticed. His record on that circuit reads 10-2-MC-20-3-2-1-1 and the combination of his red-hot form and greater tour experience earns him the edge over Maas, who has probably achieved a little more in the amateur ranks.

A teenage amateur winning the SA Open, even without the DP World Tour's strength, is of course unlikely, but Jarvis played really well in two of them last year, Jovan Rebula wasn't far away in 2018, and again this has been seriously weakened by the loss of the DP World Tour. Contending isn't beyond someone playing as well as Burke is right now.

Jbe Kruger is a more experienced option and he was put up for this at 200/1 last year, bagging a solid top-20 finish which for a while looked like it might be a little more. He's on a run of 10 successive top-25 finishes at the course, one he simply loves, and there's definitely something here for the accurate driver as Bezuidenhout and Jim Furyk before him have demonstrated.

Jake Roos should also be considered at more than twice the price in places. He's another with an excellent record here which shows nine top-30 finishes in 11. Only one of these came in a field as strong as this one and he missed the cut, but it was by a single shot last year after a poor start, his second round offering some encouragement.

Roos has won six Sunshine Tour titles, five via play-offs, and has lost a further five play-offs including here. At 41, his best days are behind him now but he was runner-up at a different Player design in March, sat third at halfway in the Limpopo Championship which was co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour, and last week caught the eye with rounds of 76-67 on his return from a 10-week break.

There are definitely positives and I expect him to outperform quotes as big as 500/1. However, Roos has a poor record in the SA Open and winning it is probably beyond him. Despite generous prices and accompanying each-way terms, I'll leave him out in favour of two Europeans with much stronger credentials.

First, LARS VAN MEIJEL will need to show he can cope here having missed the cut in 2020, but he's a solid ball-striker who on paper looks like he has the right game for it.

He's not been in the best of form lately but ranked first in greens, 11th in approaches and 12th off-the-tee last week, and it's not long since he finished seventh behind Calum Hill, Alex Levy, Richard Bland, Rasmus Hojgaard, Callum Shinkwin and Sun City runner-up Jamie Donaldson at the London Club.

That's form which is a good way beyond the standard most of these have produced and he'd committed to staying in South Africa very quickly after the news broke last week. He doesn't have children which probably makes things a good deal less complicated and his decision to stay could well be rewarded with a handsome cheque.

Van Meijel won twice on the Challenge Tour in 2019 and has a top-10 in Johannesburg to his name. His relative ability looks a little bit stronger than odds around the 125/1 mark would suggest and any three-figure prices are worth taking.

Finally, there would be something cruel about it were DAVID DRYSDALE to win this week, having played in over 500 European Tour events without yet getting his hands on silverware.

That won't be lost on him but has little to do with the case, which is that he played well at Randpark and remains dangerous on a select group of courses, more so now we're down in grade. Sun City might not look like one of those based on the scorecard yardage, but the ball travels a long way here and accuracy has always counted for something at this penal golf course.

He missed the cut on the number here last year but he'd missed his previous three, too, so I'd be more inclined to focus on a previous top-10 finish at a course he first visited almost 20 years ago. If his approach play remains solid, as it was at Randpark, and his putter continues to behave, Drysdale can plot his way to a top-10 finish and perhaps even more than that.

Unlike many of the DP World Tour regulars who remain, the 46-year-old didn't have much to stress about last week as he and his wife had planned to stay with friends in South Africa until after Christmas anyway. The fact he played well in Joburg isn't a surprise either as he'd just breathed a huge sigh of relief having secured the last card via the Race to Dubai, and he should be totally at ease.

That counts for something and while home advantage is not insignificant in these South African events, there's no substitute for a touch of class. Drysdale has it versus those like Kruger who are priced similarly and need only take a small step forward from last week to threaten the places.

Posted at 0950 GMT on 30/11/21

Click here for Ben Coley's tipping record

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