The European Tour remains in South Africa this week for the Africa Open, which takes place at the East London Golf Club, Eastern Cape. The co-sanctioned event joined the European Tour in 2010, after being played as a Sunshine Tour event in 2008 and 2009, and has only produced home grown winners since its inception. The 6,632yd Par 72 layout, which is situated close to the Indian Ocean, has a great mix of parkland and links features with undulating fairways and elevated greens, many of which are protected by the numerous bunkers. It is a short track, and features eight short Par 4s measuring under 400 yards, so accuracy rather than power will be the key element this week. Warm breezy conditions, (20 mph on Sunday)with possible thunderstorms on Friday and Saturday are forecast for the tournament.
After the late withdrawal of last weeks winner George Coetzee, the market has a decidedly open look about it, with the favourite Thomas Aiken looking to bounce back from a final round collapse in Johannesburg last week. Despite landing our each way money at 25-1, he threw away a golden opportunity after two sublime rounds of 65 and 63 put him in pole position for his third Tour victory. With only a few days to regroup, he must rate a risky betting proposition, despite his decent course form, but hopefully we can pinpoint some other possible contenders.
My main fancy is defending champion Darren Fichardt, who despite a missed cut in the Joburg Open last week, is in decent form,with a 10th,13th and 16th place finishes in the three high quality Desert Swing events. The South African loves this venue, having also posted a Tied 2nd place finish in the 2009 renewal, and this demon putter must have every chance to repeat last years victory.
Another fancy is 34 year old South African Jaco Van Zyl, who has a tremendous record at this track. His last three starts here, have resulted in a Tied 4th, an outright 4th and Tied 2nd place finishes; and he arrives here off a solid 22nd place finish in the Joburg Open. This type of test ideally suits the accurate ball striker, and if this multiple winner on the Sunshine Tour is ever going to shed his maiden tag on the European Tour, it could well be this week. The early vultures have snapped up the fancy prices, but he must go well with course form such a positive.
My final selection this week is the emerging Emiliano Grillo, who has hinted on a few occasions that he may be the next star to come out of Argentina. The 21 year old finished 2nd in Dubai with a flying finish, and his stats this season (12th in driving accuracy and 11th in greens in regulation) point to him being the type of player who could well contend this weekend. He has played in the last two renewals, posting top 10 finishes on both occasions, so the course certainly seems to suit his eye.