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Jayden Schaper E/W
George Coetzee E/W
Matthew Jordan
Mikko Korhonen
Tom McKibbin
George Coetzee - First Round Leader - E/W

Jorge Campillo gave us a timely boost last week, winning the Magical Kenya Open comfortably at 35/1, and we stay in Africa for the SDC Championship held by St. Francis Links, in Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Punters are used to co-sanctioned events by now, so whilst the European Tour has not used officially the course before, there are hints from the Sunshine Tour, particularly over the last two years, when used for the South African PGA Championship.

As for the St. Francis course, it’s name pretty much gives it away – Links.

Considered one of Jack Nicklaus’s best designs and winner of many awards, it is an absolute travesty that St. Francis won’t be shown on Sky Sports this week, so in-running wagers will be almost non-existent this week.

Both winners over the last two years – George Coetzee and Dean Burmester (beat Campillo in 2017) – have won the Tshwane Open, held at the Pretoria Country Club, whilst those names plus previous Tshwane winners read like a roll-call of links specialists and include Charl Schwartzel and Ross Fisher.

With the likely front three – Jordan Smith, Antoine Rozner and Adri Arnaus – having not seen the track before, and with what looks like a bias towards solid South African form and correlative events, the short-list is, erm, short.

Best Bet – Jayden Schaper

Not big, not clever, not bothered.

As always, there is a lot of dead wood amongst the field and I have no qualms in taking two home players from the top as the main plays of the week.

It was a toss-up between old favourite Coetzee and the more inexperienced player 14 years his younger but the improving 21-year-old just gets the vote.

Schaper was simply brilliant as a junior and amateur golfer, summed up by

“Schaper is the first junior in South African golfing history to achieve the ‘grand slam’ of Nomads SA Boys titles, winning the U-13, U-15 and U-17 tournaments and the elusive double at the Nomads SA Boys U-19 Championship as a 16-year-old at Langebaan Golf Club in 2017.

Last year [2019] he won the SA Stroke Play Championship, shooting a course record 63 at De Zalze Golf Club en route to victory in the high-ranking international event. And, in addition to five more wins on the GolfRSA Open Amateur circuit, the 18-year-old Benoni golfer became the first South African to win the Junior Players Championship – considered among the most prestigious junior golf tournaments in the world.”

We’ve seen them come-and-go but the then-18-year-old amateur finished in sixth place at his home Open, behind Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, to show what might be to come.

Schaper has had chances to get over the line, being in the top-10 going into the final round a total of 18 times since that finish in January 2020, but he is now looking far more the complete picture, having had a runner-up and seven top-10s since the start of the 2022 season.

2023 started well enough with a 44th in Cape Town disguising his position of 18th going into Sunday, whilst he is now on a run of 17th (Thailand) 13th in India, and seventh at last week’s Kenya Open, when in with a chance throughout the event, one he only got in to at the last minute through an invite.

We have no true strokes gained for Schaper’s last three outings at St. Francis, although finishes of sixth at the Vodacom Origins and sixth and 10th at this event are surely enough evidence he takes to the course, whilst form at Karen (24th and 20th) and Joburg see him tie up nicely with previous winners.

In his last three outings, the fast-improving maiden has found almost 13, 14,and 12 shots on the field in tee-to-green play, whilst also showing up well for the short game.

You can’t have everything, and if he were to improve even slightly on putting figures of minus-two and minus-four-and-change, he has to be a challenger this week.

Danger – George Coetzee   

It’s tough to write too much about George that hasn’t been read a thousand times, so this one will be short.

European Tour wins include the co-sanctioned Mauritius Open (also ninth and three top-30s), Joburg Open (third and a pair of seventh placed finishes), Tshwane Open (twice) and Portugal Masters (at a course he also has a third, sixth and seventh) whilst he holds a further 10 Sunshine Tour titles, including at this event in 2011 when held at Gauteng.

Very simply, Coetzee is a player to be on when he is both downgraded and returns home, as he showed in 2020 when missing the cut at both Abu Dhabi and at the Dubai Desert Classic, before going home to run-up at the Di-Data and finish 8th at the Tour Championship. He did the same when dropping down after the 2021 Scottish Open, returning to South Africa to win one of the Vodacom series, and again in 2022 when , admittedly in better form, he returned after a solid show at Sawgrass to be third at his home Tour Championship.

Fast-forward to Summer last year and after his withdrawals from the two DPWT/KFT events, he took in another trophy at yet another Vodacom event, before his last win here in November 2022.

Of particular interest is that Coetzee has won four of his last five trophies from gun to line, with the Portugal victory coming off a top five after the first round. He will be worth looking at for first round leader, given he bounced back to form (again with a third place at a minor event last week) with round-by-round positions of 2/5/1/3.

Of his victory here last time, Coetzee admits his early errors were due to, “basically down to a lack of knowledge of the course, taking the wrong club off the tee or playing to the wrong part of the green, like on my second on the 10th hole.”

He clearly learnt and come here this week as surely one of the top half-a-dozen in the betting. If not, why not?

Other bets – Matthew Jordan,  Mikko Korhonen

Casey Jarvis, who should be in the notebook alongside Jayden Schaper was very tempting, and the young player that led this event by two shots last year should be kept in mind alongside the likes Christiaan Mass and Christiaan Burke as the future of South African golf.

However, he may need another season in contention before I can back him at just a few points bigger than two players with a history of relevant form and in the mix.

Jordan is a punting nightmare, to be honest, but he still retains interest at around 50/1 in the right conditions.

One of a few players that comes to mind whether the word ‘links’ is mentioned, I’m convinced he will get over the line and this has to be yet another chance in favourable circumstances.

The 27-year-old has every qualification in the book with a pair of top-fives in Himmerland reading well, even if he should have finished better after a third round 62, whilst efforts in Foshan, Qatar and Portugal hint to being suited by this test, the middle of those the scene of a final round collapse after making his way to the front in difficult conditions once again, and always correlating to a links test.

Given both events have been won in 17-under and less, Jordan should relish a grind, but he makes the plan due to a slight overall upturn in putting form, something that was his nemesis over the last couple of seasons.

The first three events since the start of the year have seen the Englishman steadily improve on the greens, finding half-a-shot, three-quarters and over three shots on the field through Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras and he improved on those figures again at Laguna National, an event I backed him in and in which he performed well at, getting into the tournament too late, but recording his third successive top-20

Those that failed in Thailand are easy to forgive, and he would have expected more after being in the top six going into payday at Muthaiga, a final hole double-bogey compounding the fall through the field.

Jordan’s contended in this class a number of times – most notably the afore-mentioned Qatar and Denmark, but also at the Spanish Open and Portugal Masters, both of which may nod to this type of test.

Let’s get the bad new out of the way. Since the start of 2022, Mikko Korhonen has missed 11 cuts in 27 outings.

Now the better news. In those 16, his best finishes are 10th at Steyn City, 8th at Hillside, 15th at Celtic Manor, 11th at the Marco Simone Club and 8th in Portugal, enough of a C.V, to think that if we are getting a return from the Finn, it’s likely to be here.

The 42-year-old is a veteran on the tour, racking up wins in China (Campillo in third, Jordan Smith fifth) and the Shot-Clock Masters, where he dominated his field to win by six shots, but behind the victories, there are a pair of top-three finishes at the Tshwane Open, top-10/20s at Portugal and the KLM/Dutch Opens, top-10 finishes at The Belfry, 11th at the proven links of the Rocco Forte in Sicily and a seventh place at the 2017 South African Open, held at Glendower, and featuring a leaderboard of links-positive players.

Looking closer, the four missed cuts of 2023 have not been disastrous, a worst of 74 followed by a 68 in Thailand, with the other six rounds being in the low 70s.

For whatever reason, the Finn found something again with his iron play in India, his opening 67/72 good enough to be in second place at halfway. Whilst he got lost in the third round, a finishing place inside the top-25 is something to work on and, given conditions are back to favourable, expect him to kick-on and add to a solid record in this part of the world.

Late addendum – Tom McKibbin 

I’m not sure how I left out the #2 Player To Watch 2023 in the first draft, but the nagging has to stop, so here he is as a late-ish addition.

Much of his early promise is indicated in the article and again in previews for Joburg, Mauritius and Dubai so no need to go over old ground.

Instead, I was taken by his record in this part of the world, an area that has taken up 40 percent of his brief top league professional career so far.

18th at Joburg in November last year, he followed up with 15th at the South African Open, 13th at the Alfred Dunhill and 40th in Mauritius, an event that saw him inside the top-20 at halfway.

The youngster has left two missed-cuts behind to post a 12th place in Singapore ( opening rounds 64 and 69 helped him to a place in the top five going into Sunday) and last weekend’s 25th in Kenya, a course that should not have suited as well as something like St. Francis Links.

His length off the tee imitates the likes of Burmester, and it’s hard to crab the rest of his game, all producing stats that seem obvious for an unfinished player, whilst his pedigree in windy links conditions is an obvious indicator..

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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