Ian Richards is backing Shaun Norris to land a first European Tour win with a final-round charge in the Joburg Open.
When the Joburg Open teed off on Thursday, pre-tournament favourite Christiaan Bezuidenhout blitzed the first six holes in five-under-par and was cut to 4/1. Forty-eight holes later he is just one shot better off and totally out of it. The week seems to have gone a bit like that for quite a lot of players, getting into contention and then falling away.
After a lightning delay on the second day a handful had to come back and finish their rounds early on Saturday, and were greeted with very different weather conditions as both the temperature and wind dropped, and rain fell. Sunday's forecast promises a return to the first two days so be prepared to see some of those who played poorly in the third round fare a little better.
At the top of the leaderboard, just a single shot separates Wilco Nienaber (-16) and JB Hansen (-15), with a further four shots back to a quartet of players on 11-under. It would be fairly easy to say that the winner is more than likely to come from the front two with a really low round needed from those in a tie for third to overhaul them.
There is no denying that Nienaber is a huge talent who will no doubt win a lot of tournaments. Everyone marvels at his enormous distance off the tee but the rest of his game is not yet the finished article and will be put under a lot of pressure on Sunday. I am happy to let him play out the final 18 holes - betting even-money favourites to win their first title is not the best strategy in the world.
His closest challenger, Hansen, is yet to win on the European Tour and he has had a few chances over the years, though he did win twice on the Challenge Tour in 2018. He is likely to push the young South African all the way to the finishing line on his return from a coronavirus-enforced withdrawal in Italy, but is there a low one from those in behind?
Brandon Stone shot up the leaderboard in round three with a seven-under 64 and he is the only former European Tour winner in contention. Readers of Ben Coley's Monday column will already be on at 25/1 and he will need another low round to gain a fourth tour title.
Stone managed to play his way into the final three-ball with the only other probable challengers being Jacques Blaauw, Richard Bland and Shaun Norris. Blaauw is a very consistent player but hasn’t won in four years and each of his South African wins have come in low key, three-round events. Whenever he does play in four-round events in his homeland he invariably goes backwards and he played some very poor shots on Saturday.
Veteran Bland has played in over 460 European Tour events without tasting victory and even his one Challenge Tour win came 19 years ago. He did finish runner-up four times on that tour last year again proving even at that level he struggles to get the job done. If you look down the final-round scoring averages on over the past 12 months you will have to scan a long way before coming across his name and he is normally opposable on a Sunday.
Making up that penultimate three-ball we have the third-highest-ranked player in the field who has played all over the world and has a vast amount of experience.
SHAUN NORRIS has achieved a ranking of 111th thanks to some great play in Japan last year where he regularly put in final rounds of 64, 65 or 66 to get into contention often from well off the pace. He has eight wins worldwide though it has been a while since he won any at home, although he doesn’t play a lot in South Africa these days.
The closest he came was when third in this event three years ago and he would dearly love to win in his home city. If the two in the lead falter he is the one player I can see mounting a serious challenge and a repeat of his first-round 63 would certainly do that.
At 16/1 and with three places on offer, he looks the bet to give the leaders something to think about and his experience in the mix gives him a notable edge over his two playing partners. Bland knows chances to win at this level are running out and for Blauuw, victory would mean full membership on the European Tour.
Norris really doesn't have to worry too much about anything other than putting his foot down and having struggled to get going in Saturday's drizzle, he's taken to rediscover his scoring touch on a brighter, warmer day in Johannesburg.
Posted at 1645 GMT on 21/11/20
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