Our golf expert Ben Coley has a range of selections including outright tips for this week’s Challenge Tour event.
Ben ended 2021 almost 700 points in profit after a lucrative 2020, with two winners at 150/1 and many more besides ensuring it was another year to remember for his followers.
His tally for 2022 passed 500 points thanks to a golden summer including winners ranging from 25/1 to 200/1, two of them coming on the Korn Ferry Tour as well as 28/1 headline tip Cameron Smith in the Open Championship.
Now, he’ll be scouring tournaments beyond the DP World Tour and PGA Tour, as well as looking for first-round leader selections.
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Golf betting tips: Members Extra
1pt e.w. Alfie Plant at 60/1 (Sky Bet, BoyleSports, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Chris Paisley at 70/1 (Sky Bet, BoyleSports, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Malcolm Mitchell at 125/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Hennie Otto at 125/1 (BoyleSports, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Liam Johnston at 150/1 (Sky Bet, Betfair, Paddy Power 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
Sky Bet odds
As the last three weeks have demonstrated, the start of the Challenge Tour season is a platform for the Europeans, but an unmissable opportunity for those who are based on the co-sanctioning Sunshine Tour.
Benjamin Follett-Smith and JJ Senekal have both taken advantage, earning tickets to India and beyond when the Challenge Tour picks up in a month, and as has become standard there’s been room for a DP World Tour regular to pop home and pinch the Dimension Data Pro-Am, a prestigious title in its own right.
We sign off with the Nelson Mandela Bay Championship where the top of the market is again dominated by home players. That’s as it should be, and were there anything close to a calm forecast for the days ahead, I would be stubbornly suggesting we again row in with Brandon Stone – especially as Zander Lombard and Wilco Nienaber are along to prop up his price.
The trouble is, this event takes place at Humewood, a genuine links course in Port Elizabeth, and the forecast suggests strong wind will be a factor on most days, Sunday especially. Stone is a former Scottish Open winner who has no issues in such conditions, but they add a big chunk of random into an already complex equation, and his weakness right now is a short-game which he’ll have to call upon.
Similar comments apply to Lombard and Nienaber while Pieter Moolman, Casey Jarvis, Martin Vorster and Senekal have all seen their prices contract. That’s how the market has to respond to their performances and again, victory for any one of them would come as no surprise. The weather forecast simply demands a greater degree of speculation.
One player who should relish conditions is ALFIE PLANT, a two-time Challenge Tour winner who arrives in good form.
Fourth in Cape Town and 18th last week make it three good performances in his last four starts at this level, having signed off 2022 with 10th place in the Grand Final, and it’s been a memorable trip to South Africa after a hole-in-one to start the year.
A former Lytham Trophy winner who went on to capture the Silver Medal for leading amateur in the Open, he has plenty of links experience and in fact played nicely at Hillside on a rare DP World Tour start last summer.
During that week and throughout his handful of appearances on the main tour, Plant has demonstrated an exceptional short-game, and that looks sure to be a key attribute if the wind blows as expected. Keeping out of trouble and limiting the damage when you fail to do that might be decisive.
Plant has a fabulous attitude and is proven in tougher conditions having won in 11-under last summer, while both of his titles have come at courses where a tidy short-game is a must. At 50/1 and bigger he rates a sporting bet to topple the South Africans.
It was a little surprising to see a red-hot Adam Blomme further down the market when bet365 opened up but he’s been cut now and I can just about leave the Swede alone at 50/1, given that his revised price is also under pressure.
Second and seventh over the last fortnight, Blomme has been a permanent feature on leaderboards and I do like the fact that he did his best work at Fancourt Links during the Di-Data, as that would be the course which compares best with Humewood so far this year.
Blomme was a player I had high hopes for 12 months ago, after a promising college career at Texas Tech and then a breeze through the Nordic Golf League, and he looks like a second-year Challenge Tour player who is now ready to take the next step up the ladder.
Durban Country Club, where he first contended on the Challenge Tour, is a course with definite similarities and I don’t imagine conditions will be a problem for a player at the top of his game, so that next step could well come this week.
The one I marginally prefer from those priced less than 100/1 is CHRIS PAISLEY, who flew home for a share of third place in the Dimension-Data thanks to a six-under 66 at Fancourt Links.
Paisley has endured more than his share of struggles, particularly with his long-game, but three cuts made to begin the year have each offered promise after a miserable 2022 in which his best finish was 71st before he showed signs of life at Q-School.
It’s notable that despite his spiralling game, his best results over the last couple of seasons have been at Fairmont St Andrews (fourth and 10th), Qatar (seventh) and Abu Dhabi (seventh), all of them requiring a player to cope with a breeze. Abu Dhabi in particular was a renewal which demanded a quality short-game as Tyrrell Hatton went on to win.
Top-10 finishes in Portugal and at Le Golf National in 2019, a pair of top-fives at Himmerland, ninth in Oman and a couple of good efforts in the Dunhill Links all point to Paisley being comfortable in the expected conditions, and certainly the one thing he’s always been able to do is chip and putt.
Paisley is finally heading back in the right direction and with renewed confidence, he can get back to the business of scoring and perhaps make it two wins in South Africa, each of them hugely significant in different ways.
French duo Clement Berardo and Pierre Pineau are both of some interest, particularly the latter who finished 10th and 11th on the DP World Tour at the end of 2022, a year in which he captured his maiden Challenge Tour tidal close to the sea in Portugal.
Pineau has an electric short-game so there’s enough to like after a closing 63 last week. Then again, when he shot 63 to end the English Trophy, he opened with an 85 on his next start. Consistency has so far been a little lacking.
He’s still one to consider but I’ll move on to some at bigger prices, starting with 46-year-old HENNIE OTTO.
The combustible veteran might be done winning now but then again he came very close on several occasions last year, with seven top-10 finishes in 13 Sunshine Tour starts from May to October.
Rewind to 2021 and he was ninth here at Humewood, a course where he’s shown promise in all five starts spanning more than 20 years, and a wider look at his record confirms that seaside golf really does suit.
Otto has been third at St Francis Links where he always plays well, boasts three top-10s from as many starts at Ebotse, is a winner with six other top-10s at Fancourt, and even has a good performance in an Open Championship to his name. Also close to winning in Madeira and Qatar and just outside the top 10 in both the Scottish Open and Dunhill Links, conditions won’t be an excuse.
As for the state of his game, he shot a bogey-free 67 to begin the SDC Open and was cruising along at seven-under before a back-nine 40 last Friday saw him miss the cut by one. Before that he was inside the top 20 with a round to go in both the Dimension Data and in Cape Town, so he’s been pretty close to putting it all together.
Perhaps his failure to do so reflects his advancing years but he was eighth and third in two big, 72-hole Sunshine Tour events at the end of 2022, one of them by the sea, and at three-figure odds I’m willing to chance another former SA Open winner reminding us of his class.
Senekal’s win was a little aggravating given his obvious credentials and a fair price of 50/1, but perhaps we can learn something from it and get paid out by backing MALCOLM MITCHELL at more than twice that.
Like Senekal, Mitchell showed how well he was playing by coming through one-round qualifiers for both the Joburg Open and the SA Open late last year, and since returning to action he’s improved with each start.
Last week he climbed from 100th after round one to finish 13th and he made a nice move at Fancourt before that, shooting six-under around the Links course in round three.
Mitchell was a good amateur who played well in the Amateur Championship and the Irish Amateur to give us some links form, and he has some course form too having not only been third here last year, but cruised through the SA Amateur qualifier at Humewood in 2017.
His performances over the last fortnight both showed improvement from previous efforts at the respective courses involved and he’s been 15th at Ebotse and 12th at St Francis Links, where he contended for the South African PGA Championship in November.
Generally progressive and with more still to come, anything 100/1 and upwards rates good value.
Combrinck Smit also played in the SA amateur here along with the likes of Jarvis, Vorster, Pineau, Craig Howie, Luca Filippi and Richard Joubert, and he has to be of some interest at huge odds.
Smit was third at halfway last week before stalling on Saturday, but he closed out the tournament with a round of 68 and might just build on that around this familiar layout.
He’s played three Sunshine Tour events here, managing a best of 22nd, but since the last of them he’s won a big event at this level, the Vodacom Origins Final, played over four rounds in October. That was at Pinnacle Point, which was co-designed by Open champion Darren Clarke and overlooks the Indian Ocean, so it could just provide a few good clues.
I also considered the talented Tristen Strydom, runner-up here in 2021. Despite being a massive hitter who you’d expect to prefer the chance to be aggressive, he’s building a strong links profile having also been seventh at Ebotse and 19th at St Francis Links, together with a pair of top-20s at Fancourt.
Winner of the SA Tour Championship last May, he’s been quiet since then but began to show signs of life last week and he was a similar price to win on the DP World Tour just before Christmas.
A word too for Jannik de Bruyn, who is definitely underrated at close to 300/1, and his compatriot Michael Hirmer. Both arrive from the competitive Pro Golf Tour in Germany. As with Stone, my natural inclination is to go in again with de Bruyn, but conditions require a change of plan – which is also why Monday qualifiers Christiaan Burke and Yurav Premlall are overlooked.
I’ll sign off what will likely be my final Challenge Tour preview for a while with former Africa Amateur Stroke Play champion LIAM JOHNSTON, who was 18th last week on his second start of the year.
Johnston shot a final-round 66 which was bettered by only five players and after a quiet first round, he made just two mistakes across the final 54 holes.
Another who played in the SA Amateur here in 2017, Johnston made the quarter-finals of that event so has some fond memories to call upon, while last week’s effort wasn’t out of the blue as he was 24th in the Australian Open in December, an event won by Adrian Meronk.
Johnston picked up his third Challenge Tour win in Spain last summer so while he’s hardly one to set your watch by, with conditions potentially to suit he would by no means be a surprise winner of an event which will be shaped not necessarily by the best players, but by the worst of the weather.
Posted at 2100 GMT on 21/02/23
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