Sunday, February 25, 2024

Jonsson Workwear Open preview and best bets

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Big-hitters make up Ben Coley’s staking plan for the Jonsson Workwear Open, this week’s DP World Tour event in South Africa.

Golf betting tips: Jonsson Workwear Open

1.5pts e.w. Wilco Nienaber at 45/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Gavin Green at 45/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Tom McKibbin at 50/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Daniel van Tonder at 80/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Nick Bachem at 100/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

0.5pt e.w. Estiaan Conradie at 1500/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

I strongly suspect that Jonsson Workwear are purveyors of what you might call real workwear. Wear that people wear when they need to do some work at work. Not workwear of the Carhartt or Stan Ray kind. Workwear of the wear-it-to-work kind. Sleeves that can be rolled up; robust trousers which are to washing machines as hobnobs are to tea.

Whoever they are, we thank them for taking over sponsorship of the Steyn City Championship, which remains at Steyn City but is no longer self-backed. If only the people at JW had managed to convince Sky Sports to pop along again. Perhaps they should’ve promised them some, how do they say it now, fresh garb?

Last year’s event was televised and I remember being a little surprised with the way it unfolded at the time. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been. New venues are always a challenge, but in retrospect what should we have expected to happen at a 7,700-yard course which had nearly been flooded in the weeks prior? The power-dominated leaderboard made absolute sense and more fool those of us who didn’t see it coming.

The question now, one that’s key to unlocking this renamed tournament, is to what extent we put that down to conditions and to what extent we put it down to the course. Because if we lean towards the former, well there’s been barely a drop of rain in Gauteng lately – Steyn City and its share of hazards is bound to play firmer. If we lean towards the latter, then suddenly the list of viable candidates looks satisfyingly narrow.

Be in no doubt that last year’s event really was tilted heavily in one direction. Shaun Norris won because of an act of generosity from Dean Burmester and a world-class putting display, but Burmester, one of the biggest drivers around, blew it with a late double-bogey. In round one, James Hart du Preez, pound-for-pound perhaps the longest-hitting tour pro, threatened to break 60. He was later joined in the top 10 by Matti Schmid, Tapio Pulkkanen, Wilco Nienaber and Jacques Kruyswijk.

Norris was 18-under after two-rounds and three of those behind him played 16 par-fives in 14-under. Four 68s barely scraped into the top-10 at a par 72 designed by Jack Nicklaus and created for holidaymakers, its fairways especially wide. My belief therefore is that whether firm or soft, this resort-style course is never likely to pose too many problems for DP World Tour visitors. It might not be fly and plug, but it’s highly unlikely that this huge advantage enjoyed by the most powerful players is meaningfully diminished.

Nienaber narrowly preferred to Niklas

It seems I’m not alone in this school of thought, because a sizeable power advantage is the only way to explain why Niklas Moller is so short in the market. The very definition of an eye-catcher last week, somehow making the cut by playing the final 16 holes of his second round in 10-under, the Dane has been on my radar for this more suitable course for a long time, and it’s frustrating that he’s going to have to be left out.

Ultimately, while this freakishly long hitter did play well for 21st at this course a year ago and has been dropping hints for several months, in terms of end product he is yet to register a top-five at DP World Tour level, and didn’t win on the Challenge Tour. I’m not usually one for getting hung up on trophies but Moller’s propensity to throw in a big number and the fact he’s never really contended for something like this both make 28/1 look very short.

Instead, I’ll take the similar profile of WILCO NIENABER, quoted at almost twice the odds because he, unlike Moller, couldn’t salvage things last Friday.

That ultimately explains the difference in prices – if you flip their finishing positions under the very different conditions of the SDC Championship, I think you swap their positions in this market – yet whereas Nienaber is far less proven in the winds of St Francis Links, he is far more proven at this level.

A game runner-up to JB Hansen in Joburg, he’s also been fourth in the low-scoring English Championship (Nicklaus design) together with two ties for sixth in Spain and a few more notable efforts besides, all despite never yet holding full status. A winner at Challenge Tour level here in South Africa plus 14th on a PGA Tour invite two summers ago, his best form is undoubtedly superior to that of Moller.

So is his course form, Nienaber following a missed cut nearby with 10th place in the Steyn City Championship last year. Typical of one of the longest drivers in the sport, he led the field in par-five scoring, and even among the mistakes last week we saw his devastating scoring prowess with eight birdies and an eagle cross his two rounds.

Prior to that performance under conditions which just wouldn’t have suited, Nienaber managed to get around the fiddly Muthaiga for an encouraging 25th in Kenya (third in par-five scoring), and his form either side of Christmas suggests his game is in good shape overall.

That included 24th in Joburg where he was nicely positioned after rounds one and two, 15th in the SA Open where he was inside the places before a frustrating finish to the final round, and a similar effort at Leopard Creek where again so much good work was undone by some costly late mistakes at a much trickier course.

That’s what you’re paying for with the young South African, the possibility of a ruinous hole or two, but in this company and specifically at this course, there’s the prospect of serious reward for doing so. Not only will he expect to bully the par-fives, but there’s a par-four he and a handful of others can take aim at off the tee.

Nienaber is admittedly under pressure in a way that not everyone in this field, because this could theoretically be his final DP World Tour start of the season unless he can follow Ockie Strydom’s lead and win to secure membership, but then again he’s got a Challenge Tour pathway to follow and will likely benefit from a few invites too.

I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get involved at some stage around Steyn City. Whether or not he can see it through will depend much on his putter, but it comes alive often enough to be worth the risk.

Young star to shine

Romain Langasque finished a shot in front of Nienaber on his first visit to this course and returns with his game in better shape than last week’s missed cut suggests. That’s certainly the feeling he portrays on social media and while strokes-gained data remains unreliable, the traditional stats tell us it was all short-game that cost him at St Francis Links.

He’s desperately hard for me to leave out, as long-suffering chairman of the fan club, but tougher conditions do generally suit the Frenchman. Driver all the time is a good start, but he’ll need to putt better than he has been to keep pace and, as was the case 12 months ago, chances are he’s left behind.

Preference at just a slightly bigger price is for 20-year-old TOM MCKIBBIN.

It’s asking too much for any young player to be the heir to Rory McIlroy’s throne, but this one hails from the same Holywood Golf Club and is similarly precocious, the main difference in his case being in the lack of what you might call puppy fat.

McKibbin has had support from McIlroy but will go on to create his own path and, so far, it’s one that suggests a first win could well come in South Africa. As well as contending twice there on the Challenge Tour, his best performances outside of Ireland, McKibbin has played four DP World Tour events in the country and finished inside the top 20 in each of them.

Steyn City’s blend of wide fairways and low-scoring conditions might be the best fit yet and McKibbin, whose love for playing in South Africa can be traced back to his teenage years and some strong amateur performances, should find that it’s not the most complicated place to figure out, as third-placed Matti Schmid demonstrated last year.

Last week’s share of 18th came despite an opening 76 as he burst through the field on Friday, and since dropping in grade from the Rolex Series events which kicked off the year, he’s shown consistent promise. Along the way he’s played in a weekend final group in Singapore and flirted with the top of the leaderboard at Al Hamra, and both these courses required a lot of drivers.

That club is a real strength of McKibbin’s and this looks a good time to chance him.

Brandon Stone is another favourite of mine who merits a mention as his long-game is right back on track. Unfortunately, he continues to chip and putt poorly, weaknesses which cost him his card last year, and while he should miss fewer greens than last week it’s a very difficult handicap to overcome.

With Thriston Lawrence back up towards where he belongs in the betting, preference among the South African contingent is for DANIEL VAN TONDER.

Another with power at his fingertips, van Tonder was 16th here last year having bossed the par-fives. His form back then was similar to what we’ve seen lately, and I like the fact he signed off the SDC Championship with a best-of-the-day 66 on Sunday.

Third in Johannesburg to begin this season, he’s likely to remain a big threat on home soil under the right conditions and I think he has them here. Van Tonder won twice for us in 2021, first when able to attack a bunch of short par-fours at Karen in Nairobi, then at Sun City which is similarly long and also demands quality driving.

Last week’s strokes-gained stats have him as the best driver in the field and while again they’re not totally reliable, it seems fair to assume that he was at his best from the tee. Van Tonder had never done a great deal at St Francis Links, with finishes of MC-18-43 at a low level, and there’s a strong chance he improves for coming here.

Some of his overseas form correlates particularly well with Norris, both having played well at Al Hamra and Eichenried from limited starts in Europe and Asia, while he can also boast 21st place at the Nicklaus-designed London Club and contended at Marco Simone, where you have to drive it well.

Despite those highlights, it’s abundantly clear that he’s far more comfortable closer to home hence all of his best performances since the start of the new season having come in Africa. Finishes of 35th and 32nd across the last fortnight, on courses which nullify his strength off the tee, suggest he’s primed to get in the mix once more.

Back up the market and I can’t leave GAVIN GREEN out of the staking plan under these conditions.

Though it could so easily have been better still, following Green under low-scoring conditions on resort courses which allow him to thrash his driver with impunity was a lucrative exercise in 2022, as he finished runner-up in the Czech and Portugal Masters.

I suspect both courses offer very good form pointers here, with Burmester having been seventh and 14th in two Portugal starts, and Jacques Kruyswijk twice seventh at Albatross in Prague. Tapio Pulkkanen was also placed for us in both these events and, another big hitter, he was fifth here last year, just behind Burmester and ahead of Kruyswijk.

Green, who is a deadly putter when on-song and dominates par-fives either with his towering three-woods or borderline elite wedge game, is a player who retains the potential to leave this level behind him in time. If he can just find some consistency, he’s one I could see earning a PGA Tour card through the Race to Dubai and really making a name for himself.

In the here and now he’s finally got going after a strangely quiet start to the year, finishing eighth in India and then 15th in Kenya, the latter under conditions which will not have played to his strengths. The same is true of St Francis Links as he’s not at his best when battling, so to spend most of the week inside the top 30 goes down as encouraging.

Now, he can open up his shoulders for the first time in a while, his confidence restored and his putter seemingly firing. Having never yet missed a cut in South Africa, his best effort so far seventh place at Sun City, I doubt he’ll struggle to adapt to this new course and providing conditions are scoreable, he should be a major threat.

Fancy a big-hitter? You’d better Bachem…

For the same reasons Pulkkanen is considered but next for me is NICK BACHEM, probably the best driver among this new class of rookies ahead of Jeong Weon Ko.

The latter produced plenty of good golf last week and is respected, but Bachem is an awesome talent with a game similar to that of Schmid, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all were he to emulate his countryman and contend on his first start at Steyn City.

We’ve seen him in the mix early on in Kenya and again at St Francis Links, sticking around for the most part with the exception of a poor Sunday in Nairobi, and having also started well in India and Thailand he’s been a regular leaderboard presence over the past four events.

One of his best Challenge Tour finishes came when third in the Limpopo Championship and he later flew out of the traps on day one of the Joburg Open, so like Nienaber and Moller before him, this prodigious driver is just searching for the missing ingredient which will enable him to put four rounds together.

He’ll surely draw confidence from the way he coped at St Francis Links, four rounds of par or better helping to produce his first DP World Tour top-20, and there is absolutely no doubt that this course will suit better if he’s able to keep the ball rolling.

At three-figure prices, Bachem is preferred to his more established compatriot Hurly Long, who withdrew during the third round of last week’s event and therefore has a question to answer.

Other big-hitters like Alejandro del Rey and Wil Besseling also had to be considered along with the aforementioned Kruyswijk and du Preez, but all of them have to recover from being shunted around in the breeze and will do well to dial things back in come Thursday.

The same is true of ESTIAAN CONRADIE, but at enormous prices I can’t resist a very small play on this youngster who gives the ball an almighty whack off the tee.

Conradie’s price is easily explained by the fact he’s missed seven cuts in his last eight starts, but 12th place in the recent SDC Open at Challenge Tour level gives us something to work with, and he did respond to a disastrous first round (far from the only one) with a two-under 70 last Friday.

That was just about enough to suggest he’ll bring some form of optimism with him to Steyn City, where last year he finished 33rd having arrived on the back of seven missed cuts. Again, the most recent of them, a week earlier, had seen him rally on day two having played his way out of the tournament on day one.

Not only does Steyn City look a good fit for him on paper, his biggest asset being how far he hits the ball (a comment which also applies to du Preez), but it’s just a short drive across town from his home club, where in 2021 he won his first Sunshine Tour title in front of friends and family.

He was third when defending that title so the prospect of another boost for playing so close to home looks somewhat realistic, and I like the fact that most of his good form has come on similarly long courses, including Sun City, Blair Atholl, and the Nicklaus-designed Serengeti.

If Steyn City does favour the big-hitters as much as it did last year, then we might just see one or two inconsistent but powerful types hit the frame. That happened courtesy of du Preez and having reached 12-under midway through the third round, for a while Conradie threatened to join him inside the top 10.

At silly prices and to minimum stakes, I’ll chance him producing a similar display in the hope he can find the improvements needed to get into the money.

Posted at 1740 GMT on 20/03/23

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