Sport : Golf

Bremner to make an impression

14th November 2012, 03:01pm

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James Kingston: One of four home fancies

James Kingston: One of four home fancies

Our expert Ben Coley is backing four outsiders in the SA Open Championship at Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate.

The spectacular Serengeti Golf & Wildlife Estate hosts the SA Open Championship for the second year running and Hennie Otto is back to defend the title he won 12 months ago.

Otto's triumph was another on the board for the home contingent, and in the last decade only Scotland's Richie Ramsay has been able to wrestle the dominance away from South Africa's finest.

This year's team is headed by Charl Schwartzel, who chose to miss the event last year in favour of representing his country in the Omega World Cup, and he shares favouritism with Martin Kaymer.

Even before we look at the course, it goes without saying that at their best, these two would be capable of pulling clear of the field with relative ease.

And this Jack Nicklaus-design, one of six in South Africa, should suit both men. At 7,761 it's close to brutally long, while as is typical for courses designed by Nicklaus the emphasis is very much on the approach to small, undulating greens.

For all Kaymer's struggles this season, his ball-striking has returned to its brilliant best of late, while Schwartzel's distance should be a major factor as he bids to win his home championship at the 11th attempt.

However, Schwartzel hasn't added another victory to his CV since winning the Masters over 18 months ago, while Kaymer is running out of time if he's to continue a run that's seen him win at least once every year since 2008 and I'm not convinced he's sharp enough around the greens to be backed with confidence.

Arguably the man most likely, then, is Branden Grace. Here we have a man who has won five titles this year, four of which have been European Tour events, and his last six starts in South Africa show three wins.

And unlike the favourites, he has course form courtesy of a ninth-placed finish last year, when a third-round 74 cost him a shot at the title. Clearly he's come on leaps and bounds since and I wouldn't put this past him.

My concern is that his form has dipped since winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and it could just be that a long, hard season has caught up with him. Can he raise one last effort here and in Dubai? It's hard to say no, but at the price I'm inclined to look elsewhere.

The other main man at the head of the market is George Coetzee, and if pushed he'd be the bet at 12/1.

The burly Pretorian has been playing extremely good golf of late and has all the talent to follow in the footsteps of his good friend Grace. If only he had the same ruthlessness.

I expect Coetzee to get off the mark soon on the European Tour and it may just be that co-sanctioned events at home offer his best opportunity, but having missed the cut here last year he's just not backable at the price.

So, where do we start? Well, I'm taking length as an advantage this week and want to look towards confident home-grown players first.

First on my list - and the selection I was most excited about in putting together this preview - is Merrick Bremner.

The Durban-born 26-year-old has long held a tall reputation but has shown only glimpses of promise since turning professional in 2005.

However, top-three finishes in two of his last three starts on the Sunshine Tour demonstrate that his game is in good shape and he might just be primed for a personal best finish in a co-sanctioned event.

This time last year he put together back-to-back top-20 finishes, first in the Alfred Dunhill Championship and then here, but in truth it should've been more.

Bremner sat third after round one and second at halfway only to suffer over the weekend, presumably struggling to cope with the pressure of contending in his home Open.

Of course, that could happen again, but already we've evidence that he likes the venue which makes him tempting enough at silly prices.

However, the icing on the cake comes in the form of his victory at this very course on the IGT Challenge Pro Tour, one of the feeder Tours in South Africa.

It came earlier this year in an 18-hole event, when he shot five-under despite a double-bogey and hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation on his way to a play-off victory over Allan Versfeld.

At 225/1 with Stan James, Bremner makes the staking plan and we'll stick Versfeld in there too.

A former Sunshine Tour Rookie of the Year, Versfeld has really come into his own in 2012, highlighted by a first Tour victory in the Vodacom Origins de Zalze.

He threatened to add to it at Fancourt in the Vodacom Origins Final only to be passed in the final round by Grace, and now sits 24th on the Order Of Merit.

Versfeld puts his improvement down to the experience he's gained in Europe and that should serve him well in this event, one he missed the cut in last year.

That course form fear is allayed by his performance in the Serengeti Challenge and having finished seventh last week I'm prepared to chance a player who could potentially make waves on the European Tour in years to come.

Other young guns worth considering are Brandon Stone at sportingbet's 300/1 and Dawie Van Der Walt at 100s, the latter a player who has come close to victory on the Web.com Tour this season.

However, for my next selection I'm going to chance James Kingston.

I must preface this selection by pointing out that he's certainly not in the best of form, but he does have three top-10 finishes from 25 starts this year and all of them - including his tie for ninth in Morocco's Trophee Hassan II - have come in Africa.

It's only a couple of weeks since he finished ninth in the Suncoast Classic too so there are some signs that this veteran winner of 15 events as a professional is capable of producing the goods.

What I like most is that Kingston won this event in 2007 at Pearl Valley Golf Estates, one of those other five courses in the region designed by the Golden Bear.

His other European Tour win came in the Mercedes-Benz Championship at Gut Larchenhof, another Nicklaus design, so there's evidence to suggest that the layout could suit even if he did miss the cut last year.

In addition, at 140th in the Race To Dubai, Kingston will need a top-three finish to keep his Tour card. That incentive might just inspire him to a big week and unlike most of this field he knows he's good enough to get over the line.

Last on my list of home-grown players is Chris Swanepoel who looks a shade overpriced at 200/1.

A three-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, he led the greens in regulation statistics on his way to 13th here last year and was eighth at Pearl Valley two years earlier.

Those results are pretty impressive and having beaten Trevor Fisher Jnr in a play-off for the Zimbabwe Open earlier this year, he'll be raring to go.

His last co-sanctioned start was in the Joburg Open where he finished 17th so unlike many of these he's shown more than once that he isn't intimidated by stronger fields.

Born and raised in Pretoria, this is very much a home game and he could give us a big run for our money at the price.

In addition to small-stakes each-way bets on the above four, I'm going to back Bremner, Versfeld and Swanopoel in the first round leader market. All three are capable of flying out of the gates and may be as likely to start fast as they are to contend.


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