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Oosthuizen is Joburg Open favourite


The 2018 European Tour ends its first, four-event, 2017-leg this week with the Joburg Open, which is set to be played for the first time in a decade at the Randpark Golf Club instead of at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington.

The Tour resumes after the Christmas break on January 11 with the South African Open, but in the meantime, The Joburg Open, the only event in Africa that is tri-sanctioned by the Sunshine, Asian and European Tours, is gearing up to end the year with a real flourish with former Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen heading up the strong South African contingent in the Tour's largest field this year.

In all, 240 players will start their week playing one round each on Randpark's Firethorn and Bushwillow courses with the 65 plus who make the cut completing both weekend rounds on the tougher Firethorn, a long, 7,595-yard, par-72 parkland course reported to be "superbly conditioned" and renowned for its taxing, make-or-break 16th, 17th and 18th finishing holes.

Bushwillow is also a parkland course, but at 7,114 yards this three par-5, par 71 layout is less taxing - especially in the thin air of high altitude Johannesburg which is more than 5,000 feet above sea level.

Randpark is not new to top-level golf. It hosted the 1995 and 2000 South African Opens and in 2009 and 2010 the SAA Pro-Am Invitational on the Sunshine Tour, and is more than likely, because of their local knowledge of the course, of its thick Kikuyu rough and its prevailing weather give the South Africans in the field an advantage.

Clearly this is why Oosthuizen, though a little shy of his best in recent starts (T9 at the Nedbank Challenge, T7 after leading at the Mauritius Open) is the British bookmakers' favourite this week at 11/2 and why he is followed on their list by two more South Africans, namely last week's Mauritius winner Dylan Frittelli, their second favourite at 8/1, and George Coetzee at 14/1 before they can find a place for their first offshore invader, American Paul Peterson (at 20/1)

After Peters, who can boast four top 10s on the Asian Tour, two of them in the runner-up spot and one of those in the co-sanctioned Hong Kong Open a fortnight ago, the next highest-placed visitor on the Bookies list is China's Ashun Wu who at 33/1 is in 9th spot behind four more South Africans, one of them defending champion Darren Fichardt at 25/1.

Watch Wu. He could be the dark horse. With higher stakes and three tickets up for grabs to next year's Open Championship, he and the other players in the field who are currently languishing outside the Top 50 (who automatically qualify for the world's oldest major) will have a lot to play for.

And Frittelli especially so. After winning in Mauritius and bringing down his World Ranking to No 55 last week, he made it clear he was looking at the Joburg Open as a means of taking his ranking below 50 and putting himself in a position to qualify for all of next year's majors, let alone The Open.

He is likely to be another threat Oosthuizen and the other aspiring Joburg Open winners will need to be wary of.

The former World junior (under 15) champion and US college star is flying high right now. Fresh from his victory last week, he will also have 2nd and 4th place finishes in the hotly contested Turkish Airways Open and the DP World Tour Championships last month to boost his confidence

The weather? You're advised to bring your waterproofs and brollies. Our weather boffins are forecasting afternoon rain on each of the first three days with thunderstorms on Saturday. There will be some wind with gusts getting up to 18km/h occasionally, but it should not consistently be strong enough to make much of a difference for the players.

(Tuesday a.m. December 5, 2017)

Louis Oosthuizen 11/2
Dylan Frittelli 8/1
George Coetzee 14/1
Paul Peterson 20/1
Haydn Porteous 25/1
Dean Burmester 25/1
Darren Fichardt 25/1
Shaun Norris 30/1
Ashun Wu 33/1
Matt Wallace 40/1
Sam Horsfield 55/1
Romain Langasque 60/1
Thomas Aiken 66/1
James Morrison 66/1
Erik Van Rooyen 70/1
Jeff Winther 70/1
Joel Stalter 70/1
Ockie Strydom 70/1
Jbe Kruger 80/1
Justin Walters 80/1.

Neville Leck

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