The European Tour starts 2016 in South Africa where Andy Sullivan defends the SA Open. A strong field has assembled at Glendower GC in Johannesburg.
The BMW SA Open hosted by Ekurhuleni is one of the oldest events to feature on the European Tour. The first South African Open was contested as an exhibition tournament in 1893 and 2010 saw the 100th staging of the great competition. This year will be the 105th edition.
The great South African golfers of the last 80 years have been to the fore in this great tournament. Bobby Locke won nine times between 1935 and 1955 before Gary Player took over, winning 13 times from 1956 to 1981. Other South African Major winners – Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman have all lifted the trophy.
Last season Andy Sullivan sealed his maiden European Tour title in this event with a playoff victory over home favourite Charl Schwartzel. It teed up a memorable year for the Englishman. He went on to win two further events during the 2015 season and finished the year with a fine performance in the DP World Tour Championship – pushing Rory McIlroy all the way to the line. Andy Sullivan defends the SA Open this week but will face some strong competition.
Andy Sullivan flop shot masterclass:
As you would expect, the home nation will be well represented. Branden Grace tees it up and will start as favourite. But Grace will be ably supported by the likes of Jaco Van Zyl, George Coetzee, Richard Sterne and Retief Goosen.
Other notable names on the start sheet include, David Howell, Gegory Bourdy and Nicolas Colsaerts. It’s a good chance for the European Tour Q school graduates to prove themselves on the main circuit. Walker Cup winner Paul Dunne will start, as will experienced European Tour campaigners Richard Finch and Edoardo Molinari, both of whom made a return to Tour school last year.
The weather forecast for Johannesburg looks mixed. Good conditions on the first couple of days could be followed by storms over the weekend.
Venue: Glendower GC, Gauteng, Johannesburg, South Africa
Date: Jan 7-10
Course stats: par 72, 7,564 yards
Defending Champion: Andy Sullivan (-11)
Thursday 7 – Sky Sports 4 from 12.30pm
Friday 8 – Sky Sports 4 from 12.30pm
Saturday 9 – Sky Sports 4 from 10.30am
Sunday 10 – Sky Sports 4 from 10am
Branden Grace – The World Number 14 has a poor record in his home championship and will be looking to rectify that. This is an event he is desperately keen to win. He was on solid form at the end of 2015 with top 10s in both the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Nedbank Challenge.
Jaco Van Zyl – Another home player on good form towards the end of 2015. He was second in Turkey then tied eighth in the Alfred Dunhill and tied 13th in the Nedbank.
Lee Slattery – The Englishman was third in this event last year and he enjoyed some reasonable results late in 2015 – ninth in the Turkish Airlines Open in November for example.
Key hole: 15th. This reachable par-5 of 547 yards will provide a good birdie or eagle chance, but it’s not without danger. Bunkers at driving distance on the right side of the fairway cause players to veer left, but a stream waits just off the fairway on that flank. The key then to this hole is getting a good drive away – it’s one that could see some big swings in fortune on Sunday afternoon.