2pts e.w. Sam Horsfield at 25/1 (Ladbrokes, Coral 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
2pts e.w. Dean Burmester at 28/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Wilco Nienaber at 40/1 (Ladbrokes, Coral 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Daniel Van Tonder at 45/1 (Ladbrokes, Coral 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
0.5pt e.w. Toby Tree at 250/1 (Ladbrokes, Coral 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
When one tournament begins less than 48 hours after another, and both of these tournaments take place at the same course, and the most notable additions to the field are Nicolai von Dellinghausen and Thriston Lawrence, there's only one thing for it: you have to mark your own homework. We've all had one go at this, and establishing which elements of that first attempt we can carry over for the second is the only place to begin.
Anyone who has ever been told that their working out was good will know what that really means: your answer was wrong. That's probably the fairest way to summarise my selections for the Kenya Open, where Richie Ramsay dropped from a share of the lead to a share of 52nd on Saturday, where Johannes Veerman started the final round two back and had doubled that margin after one hole, where I paid the price for not making 'any South African winner at 9/2' part of the staking plan, and where Romain Langasque's place payout didn't cover the week.
Some nice ideas, yes, but you have basically failed the exam. It really is like being back at school.
That working out, though. Sometimes, it bears fruit, and for once we don't have to wait an entire year to be able to say so. And while fully prepared to learn lessons and come back with an entirely new set of ideas, the truth is that the core arguments last week now look more robust for Justin Harding's win, rather than less, and while going in to bat with the same squad isn't perhaps the answer — sorry, Richie and Johannes, but I just can't — pulling at those same threads is.
First, course ties. Harding could've won at Valderrama last year and that looks a particularly strong pointer, given that Veerman, Connor Syme, Guido Migliozzi and others helped to strengthen those connections just a little bit more. So too does Crans-sur-Sierre, a tree-lined course at altitude where, just as at Karen, there are multiple par-fours that can be reached with one swipe of the driver. Enter Scott Hend, twice defeated in play-offs at Crans and an out-of-the-blue contender over the weekend just gone.
Those courses and the leaderboards they've helped produce are an excellent form guide, but above all else it was the tee-to-green stats which I felt really told us something. With a round to go in the Kenya Open, four players had a realistic chance, and they ranked first, second, third and fourth in strokes-gained tee-to-green. Come the end of the tournament, runner-up Kitayama led the field, and the winner was close behind in second. My theory as to why is that on at least six, possibly as many as nine holes, a good drive makes for a very short second and what should be a close-range birdie putt. Veerman had stacks of them, at least unti Sunday.
Of slightly less concern to me, as counterintuitive as it might sound, is the final leaderboard in the Kenya Open, and that's largely because it has to be. Veerman for instance is 25/1 from 40/1, Harding 14/1 from 33s, and perhaps too much stock has been placed in one week's play. What limited evidence we have, from Celtic Manor and Cyprus last year, suggests that it is far too simplistic to expect a re-run, even if conditions in Nairobi should prove far more consistent than they were in Wales, and a better approach might be to look for promise behind those at the very top.
Remember, unlike those other events, the Savannah Classic begins less than two days after the conclusion of the Kenya Open. Harding will surely take Monday off bar an hour or two on the range and it's very difficult to know whether he'll pick up where he left off or struggle for focus after an energy-sapping week. For Kitayama, it's been a fortnight of contending without winning and for all he's plainly at the top of his game, to spend eight days in nine at the top of leaderboards is a mammoth task for anyone.
I do however like several of those who were tucked in behind, never in with a realistic chance throughout the weekend and yet able to show us what they can do at Karen. And nobody, to my eye, dropped a bigger hint than SAM HORSFIELD, so he's surely the best bet here at 25/1.
Yes, Horsfield's price has been revised, just like all those who played well, but I don't think it's enough. Coming into the Kenya Open, we had to guess whether his back problem had been cured, with the fact he skipped some mega-money events in January and February only adding to that concern. Even if known to be fit, we would've had to accept guaranteed rust, as he hadn't been seen competitively since before Christmas.
Horsfield, who opened up with a round of 65 and finished with another, answered all those questions. In tying for eighth, he demonstrated that he has the tools to take down this quirky course, where his natural aggression is just a perfect fit, and his ball-striking stats — 14th off the tee, 24th on approach — were impressive. But for that rust which cost him during the middle rounds and largely revealed itself in some issues on and around the greens, he might have been a serious threat to Harding.
There is a small worry that he could, in racing parlance, bounce; that playing eight rounds in nine days is too much for a still-healing body. But remember, he chose to come to Kenya, knowing the dates of these events, to begin his season. Perhaps the Masters entered his calculations — he may be able to qualify by winning this — but he's given up far more valuable events this year and, at 24 and with an experienced team around him, risking his future to play in a fortnight isn't the sort of move I think he'd make.
Taking all of this into account, we're left with a question which ultimately determines whether or not he is a bet this week, having been twice the price last: where would a fit, in-form, course-proven Sam Horsfield sit in this market? Had he arrived in Kenya on a top-10 finish in Qatar, for instance, what position would he have taken?
I think the answer has to be favourite, having won twice in quick succession during a breakthrough 2020, and long been considered a top-class talent in the making. There are some very good players in this field, and the top of the market is strong, but I don't know as anyone here has the ability of the player some firms have eighth in their market.
As for why he appeared to enjoy Karen so much, well that brings us to one of those bits of working out from last week's preview. Louis de Jager, second here in 2019, said it reminded him of Pretoria. Horsfield, who hasn't yet played Valderrama, was runner-up on his first and only visit there three years ago, losing out to favourite George Coetzee in his own back garden. I think he's the man they all have to beat granted any kind of sharpening for his return.
Sticking with that Pretoria theme, former Tshwane Open champion DEAN BURMESTER is another who has hardened in the betting for a relatively unthreatening top-10 finish, but he too allayed concerns over his fitness in the process.
Burmester had withdraw from his previous start in Qatar, but for which I would've been including him in last week's staking plan. Now we know there is nothing amiss following four good rounds, Saturday's quiet day at the office keeping him out of the top five, I'm more than happy to take a shorter price at a course he fell in love with.
"I was ecstatic when I pitched up here on Tuesday and saw the golf course," said Burmester. "It definitely reminds me of (Harare Country Club). My mom has played well there, and won numerous tournaments around there. I was lucky enough to win there in 2015, the Zim Open. Being born there, that was awesome.
"The only difference is this is probably slightly flatter around the greens. Lots of irons and three woods off the tee there, and pure greens like we have here. It’s exciting and I can’t wait for the weekend."
That weekend didn't really get going until Sunday afternoon, when he played six holes in six-under, and even then two short misses across the final two holes kept him from finishing in a share of fourth, rather than eighth. Given he can be erratic I love the fact he made very few mistakes, and having excelled with his ball-striking and made more than his share, it was the volatile and easy-to-ignore around-the-green stats which show what kept him from the very top of the leaderboard.
With a little more luck in that department, Burmester can make mincemeat of that stretch from the sixth to the 12th, where rounds came alive all week, and potentially add victory here to those at Royal Harare and Pretoria, where his ability to club down and attack some short par-fours always makes him a danger.
Coetzee and J.C. Ritchie are among the other South Africans worth considering, at a course which could have been lifted from Johannesburg bar slightly less lush rough.
Coetzee was third in the field in terms of scoring over the final 54 holes, having been four-over through eight holes in round one and still level par with four to play in round two. He was excellent from that point onward, making a run from the first group out on Sunday, and his price has held firm despite to the point that he becomes tempting.
That said, I'd much rather stick to that Valderrama link and ties with Joburg to give WILCO NIENABER another chance.
There's not much to add to last week's case, which centred around the fact he almost won at altitude in Johannesburg and surprised many when sixth in Spain. While known for his absurdly big hitting, Nienaber is much more than that and last year's strokes-gained stats put him as one of the best players in this field already.
After a strong start in the Kenya Open, the 20-year-old was on the fringes of contention when inexplicably choosing to hit iron off the ninth tee on Saturday, finding a water hazard which wasn't really in play and making bogey. That stopped him right in his tracks and he limped home, before a solid 67 to sign off an encouraging albeit frustrating week.
Tellingly, he drove the green on that ninth hole in the final round, likely with something less than driver given the altitude and his immense power, and on what was his debut at the course I felt there was plenty of promise in a share of 28th — enough, at least, to side with him again at a similar price.
Nienaber ended the tournament ranked 130th in putting and missed several from very close range. All other aspects were good, for all he wasn't at his absolute best off the tee, and I'm convinced he can stack up birdies and eagles here if tidying up just slightly.
On the back of what was still his best performance of 2021, and with the promise of much more to come, he's worth another chance.
Langasque is of course hard to leave out, having been inside the top 10 on all three starts at the course now. His driving powered last week's share of fifth, with his approach play leaving plenty of room for improvement, and the Frenchman is as comfortable as any of the South Africans at this wonderful little course.
I don't think he's a bad price, either, and he would be preferred to all others not yet mentioned who are priced up at 33/1 and shorter, while Pep Angles has to be considered at 66/1. Shortlisted in last week's preview, he was making his first start since December and finished strongly to share eighth at a course he'd enjoyed on his debut two years earlier.
This Spanish powerhouse, with top-20 finishes at Valderrama and in Joburg, looks like he came of age with his first Challenge Tour win in November and having hit the ball really well isn't easy to overlook despite having halved in price.
Instead though I have to give another chance to DANIEL VAN TONDER at 45/1 (eight places; 55/1 available with bet365, who pay five).
This Sunshine Tour star missed the cut on the number after a brilliant finish to his second round and is worth one more chance to prove that he can make the leap to the European Tour. If he needed a boost on that front, he need only look to Harding, who for a long time looked like his level was lower.
Crucially in terms of overlooking his disappointing effort last week, when he was on the back foot early, Van Tonder drove the ball brilliantly. That platform is one from which scores can be built here, demonstrated by Hend, Migliozzi and many more, and perhaps on reflection he suffered a bit of a hangover for losing a play-off the previous weekend.
The world number 140 knows this is a big chance to secure his European Tour card, as good perhaps as he will get given his strong form at Karen prior to last week, and anything 40/1 and bigger seems fair in the circumstances.
Of those much further down the list, Julien Guerrier is an excellent driver, with lots of form to tie in with Karen which might even include Mauritius, given that Harding and Kitayama did battle there once. He made 20 birdies and two eagles last week and could threaten if tidying things up, as might Valderrama eighth Masahiro Kawamura, whose long-game looked sharp despite a missed cut. He was six-under through 12 in round two before a few late mistakes proved costly.
Sebastian Soderberg is a former course winner who was popular enough at 125-150/1 and, having missed the cut on the number, will do for many at an inflated price. A winner in Crans who has also been 23rd at Valderrama, he has all the relevant form we need and did make 10 birdies despite missing the cut on the number. Again, it's really not too big a concern and we may see some of those who've had nothing else to do but hit the range take big steps forward.
At an even bigger price however, TOBY TREE again caught the eye with some quality approach work as he finished down the field and this Englishman, who has played a lot of golf in Africa, could go well at 350/1 with bet365, or 250/1 with a few extra places.
That quote from Burmester about a likeness with Royal Harare is backed up by plenty of similarities between leaderboards, with Harding placed there, Burmester himself a champion, and the likes of De Jager and Haydn Porteous either winning or going close at both.
It's perhaps worth something, then, that Tree was an in-the-mix eighth on his one and only start there, while he's also contended at Pretoria, sitting fifth through 54 holes and fading to 14th during the very early stages of his professional career in a tournament won by Charl Schwartzel.
Digging around for something else to suggest he might go well at here, and I noticed that while way down the field at Valderrama last year, he actually led the field in strokes-gained tee-to-green. In other words, while he had an absolute shocker with the putter, the make-up of that idiosyncratic course proved just to his liking.
Tree opened with a bogey-free 67 last week and was among the better ball-strikers, so it seems Karen is another of these fiddly, tree-lined courses he likes, and having made both cuts to start the year he is worth a small bet to take a big leap forward and contend.
Posted at 0745 GMT on 22/03/21
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