Punter’s Pointers: The 2022 DP World Tour season begins with the Joburg Open

The circuit returns to the tree-lined fairways of Randpark Country Club in Johannesburg.

All change this week.

The European Tour is no more, with a title sponsor moving in to create the DP World Tour.

But the pre-Christmas journey to South Africa is very familiar.

It kicks off with this week's Joburg Open, taking place at Randpark Country Club's Firethorn and Bushwillow courses, then it's off to Gary Player Country Club for next week's South African Open, before Leopard Creek Country Club plays host to the popular Alfred Dunhill Championship.

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The field is necessarily something of a climbdown from last week's elite collection at the 2021 seasonal finale.

No Collin Morikawa, who last week claimed the DP World Tour Championship and Race to Dubai double; no Rory McIlroy, who blew up so badly even his shirt was left in tatters; and few of the home nations big stars either.

But there's plenty for punters to tuck into.

Let's take a closer look.

The altitude factor

Johannesburg is situated on the high veldt, at 1,753 metres above sea level, so the thin air and the extra distance the ball flies is a genuine factor this week.

Where else is this a consideration on the schedule? The obvious starting point is Crans, home of the European Masters, perched high in the Swiss Alps at 1,020 metres. To a lesser extent, think of Madrid (820m) and Munich (520m)

But an almost perfect comparison is Nairobi (1,795m), the capital of Kenya, where both Karen and Muthaiga Country Clubs are located, the two venues that have hosted the nation's Open.

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Last season (this March) Karen actually hosted back-to-back events on the schedule and it is not just thin air that the two locations share. Both are also tree-lined, traditional in design, and the grasses are also similar.

Who might that flag up?

First might be Justin Harding who claimed the Kenya Open in March and led the next week's Savannah Classic after 54 holes before becoming fatigued. The trouble is that he has a poor course record (four missed cuts) and has just one top 50 finish in his last eight starts.

Dani Van Tonder won the second event in Kenya earlier this year and did land a top 20 last time out, but he's also had his struggles on the course (no top 40 in four appearances).

There is a third local with a similar profile: Jacques Kruyswijk finished fifth twice in Kenya eight months ago, but has a best of T49th in four course starts and one top 30 in his last five starts.

So what about Frenchman Romain Langasque? His form is solid (T34th or better in his last four starts), he finished second at the course in 2018, and he has three top six finishes in Kenya from five starts (fifth and T30th this year).

The Madrid link

Last year's winner of this event, Joachim B Hansen, had saved his tour card 12 months previously with a neat run of last season form that began with fourth place at Club de Campo Villa Madrid.

That course and Randpark have quite a few form links. For example, Madrid winners Retief Goosen, Ricardo Gonzalez and Charl Schwartzel also have top five finishes at Randpark.

Then there is former winner here, Shubhankar Sharma, who was this year tied third in Madrid.

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Big-hitting Wilco Nienaber got off to a slow start in the Open de Espana last month, sitting T88th after round one, but a Friday 65 and a Sunday 64 saw him burst into a share of sixth.

He also featured in this event last year, opening with a 63 for a share of the first round lead, being one blow clear after 54 holes, before being bested by Hansen on Sunday.

Course form

What about keeping it simple and going with form on the track?

Veteran Darren Fichardt likes it there. He was second on debut way back in the 2000 South African Open, added a sixth place on the Sunshine Tour and was T11th last year.

His best efforts of the 2021 European Tour season are quite intriguing too: he very nearly won the Qatar Masters hinting that he's not done yet at this level, he contended in Kenya before finishing T10th in the Savannah Classic, and he was tied fifth in the BMW International Open at Munich-Eichenried.

When last seen he opened with a 66 on his way to T59th in the Dubai Championship - just about enough to save his card.

And what about globe-trotting Shaun Norris?

It's a decade since he lifted the last of his two Sunshine Tour titles and there was a gap in his CV until he ventured east.

Two wins on the Asian Tour were followed by a move to Japan where he has claimed five wins, two of them this year - the most recent being the prestigious Japan Open last month.

He finished alongside Fichardt in that tie for fifth in Munich and his course record is deep.

He finished fourth there on the Sunshine Tour in 2010, third in this event in 2017, third again last year, and made the cut in two South African Opens in-between.

READ MORE: Six takeaways from the 2021 LPGA season

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