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Can the foreigner's win again?


If the bookmakers have done their sums correctly, the European Tour's 2018 opener, the BMW South African Open at Glendower in Johannesburg this week, is going to culminate with a bunch of South Africans fighting it out for their coveted national Open title - the world's second oldest after The Open championship itself.

On Tuesday morning Branden Grace at 6/1 topped their list of favourites, closely followed by three more South Africans, the 2011 Masters champion, Charl Schwartzel at 13/2, and then by fast-rising Dylon Frittelli at 16/1 and Dean Burmester at 25/1.

Denmark's solid, always dangerous Soren Kjeldsen at 25-1 was the overseas invader they see as having the best chance of spoiling a South African celebration with up-and-coming young gun Jordan Smith (28/1) and seasoned fellow Englishman Chris Wood (35-1) as their next best bets.

Unfortunately for the punters and golf fantasy players, the bookies might not be right.

Statistics tell us that since 2008, five British or European golfers - Graeme Storm last year, fellow-Englishman Andy Sullivan in 2015, Denmark's Morten Ørum Madsen in 2013, Swede Henrik Stenson in 2012 and Scot Richie Ramsay in 2009 - have won the title as against only four from South Africa - young gun Brandon Stone (2016), Hennie Otto (2011), Ernie Els (2010) and Richard Sterne (2008).

Three of the overseas triumphs have come in the last four years and two of those winners, Storm, who last year beat the highly-favoured, but injured, Rory McIlroy in a playoff, and Sullivan, who three years ago also won a playoff against an equally strong favourite, in this case Schwartzel, are back to bid for a second SA Open title on the same Glendower course where they won it for the first time.

Their victories on its long, 7,594-yard parkland track defended by water on 11 of its holes, could well give them a good shot of confidence, but unless their form is better than it was in the later stages of last season, confidence might not be enough to stop driven local favourites like Schwartzel and Grace, who have yet to triumph in their homeland Open and are desperately keen to have their names engraved on a trophy bearing illustrious ones like Gary Player (13 times), Bobby Locke (9) and Sid Brews (8), Ernie Els (5) and Retief Goosen (2). Schwartzel especially so. After leading by five shots at the start of the final round, that playoff loss still rankles.

If Grace has been given a slight edge by the bookies, it's almost certainly because he won the important Nedbank Golf Challenge with a closing 66 on the monster of a course at Sun City shortly before the Christmas break

Mind you, they won't be the only South Africans that Kjeldsen, Smith, Wood and co are going to have to beat to maintain the 'uitlanders' recent domination of the title.

Keep an eye out for Frittelli. A breakthrough European Tour win and a 2nd place finish last year put him into the Race to Dubai final in 19th place before he finished 4th at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.

He's already 4th in the latest Race to Dubai after winning last month's Mauritius Open and if he can shrug away the memories of his two missed cuts in three starts at Glendower, he could easily be up there in the milling mix when the front runners are heading for course's unforgiving final hole on Sunday.

The weather? The course could be softened up some by rain on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, but all four rounds should be rain-free with little wind - weather worth a four or five-star rating according to our forecasters.

(0n Tuesday a.m. Jan 9, 2018)

Branden Grace 6/1
Charl Schwartzel 13/2
Dylan Frittelli 16/1
Dean Burmester 25/1
Soren Kjeldsen 25/1
George Coetzee 28/1
Jordan Smith 28/1
James Morrison 33/1
Chris Wood 35/1
Erik van Rooyen 40/1
Andy Sullivan 40/1
Matthieu Pavon 30/1
Shaun Norris 30/1
Haydn Porteous 50/1
Jason Scrivener 50/1
Thomas Aiken 55/1
Richard Sterne 45/1
Brandon Stone 66/1
Jamie Donaldson 50/1
Lucas Bjerregaard 50/1
Matt Wallace 50/1
Peter Hanson 66/1
Retief Goosen 66/1
Thomas Detry 66/1.

For betting odds visit BetWay

Neville Leck

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