Spotlight on: Big hitting Wilco Nienaber looking to claim first DP World Tour win at the Joburg Open

The 21-year-old went close to success last year at Randpark Country Club – can he go one better this year?

In recent times, South Africa has never lacked for waves of golfing talent.

In the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century there was the era of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, which resulted in a bonanza of Major Championship wins.

Trevor Immelman, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen came shortly afterwards, although only Oosthuizen has remained a force in the Majors.

Beyond the confines of the elite events, South Africans have travelled across the globe; the Sunshine Tour a kind of factory of golfers with the capacity to become multiple tournament winners.

In recent years there has been signs of a new crop who might rise to the top.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout has become a three-time winner on the European Tour, is settled on the PGA Tour, and he made the cut in all four Majors in 2021.

Meanwhile, Garrick Higgo had a dazzling early summer, winning twice in Europe and once on the PGA Tour to transform his short term aspirations; he's yet to quite settle after that bewildering spell, but his potential looks enormous.

And, to that pair, we might add the massive hitting of Wilco Nienaber.

The 21-year-old from Bloemfontein is yet to join his peers as a main tour winner so notions of new eras (and him being a part of it) is perhaps a little premature, yet, as with Higgo, the raw material is easy on the eye.

Whereas Bezuidenhout thrills with a calm demeanour allied to deadly short game skills, Higgo and Nienaber are very modern golfers, having the ability to send the ball vast distances from the tee box.

That said, Higgo is merely long.

While Nienaber is very, very, very long.

At the PGA Tour's Palmetto Championship in June, while Higgo caught and passed the leaders in the final round, Nienaber was astounding even his fellow players with his drives.

Robert Castro tweeted a screenshot of a 354-yard Nienaber drive and added: "I played in front of this dude today. This drive rolled 15 yards. No wind. I saw it land, had to get my yardage book out to see how far it flew. 340. Shotlink confirmed."

This week Nienaber returns to the Joburg Open at Randpark CC where, last year, he launched a 439-yard drive.

Sure, Randpark is at altitude, but it was a ridiculous blow and he claims distance is not something he has specifically worked on.

Can that prodigious hitting help him to victory this week? What's the best way to support (or oppose) him this week?

Let's take a closer look.

Nienaber at Randpark CC

Last year he thrashed a brilliant 63 in the first round to grab a share of the lead, added a pair of 67s to end the third lap one shot clear of the field, but a Sunday 70 was not quite enough: he ended the week clear of everyone bar the winner JB Hansen.

His average drive was 380.90 yards, he putted well (ranking fifth for Putting Average) and he was solid with his approaches (25th for Greens in Regulation).

His good vibes extend beyond that effort because he made his first-ever start on the European Tour (indeed, he'd not played on the Sunshine Tour either) at Randpark in 2018. He made the cut, finishing T54th.

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Nienaber on similar courses

He finished T16th at Royal Johannesburg, the previous host of this week's event, earlier this year and his record in South Africa, while limited, is very good. He's made 14 starts and found his feet in his last 10, landing seven finishes of T16th or better, with two seconds and a win in May's Dimension Data Pro-Am.

This week's course is at altitude, traditional in design and tree-lined. Nienaber finished T28th-MC in conditions such as those in Kenya in March and he was tied sixth in the Open de Espana at Club de Campo Villa Madrid last month.

Nienaber's form

He had a ropey spell after finishing T14th behind Higgo in the Palmetto, but he's broken that in recent weeks.

He closed the 2021 European Tour season by making four cuts in five starts, including that top 10 in Madrid.

He was last seen finishing tied eighth at the Challenge Tour Grand Final.

Nienaber in the betting

A winner this year (albeit on the Sunshine Tour), excellent course form (and vibes), recent form in the conditions, and fresh off a top 10 finish - there are obvious claims for him in the outright this week.

The concern would be that in 44 European Tour starts he has landed a place just four times. The conditions might suggest he has a better shot than normal this week, but his price definitely reflects that.

What about backing him in the first round leader market, then?

The books are aware that last year's fast start came on Randpark's Bushwillow course and this year only the Firethorn track is being used.

His price is therefore a little inflated compared to his outright price.

Against that, at Club de Campo, his second round 65 was the second low score of the day and his final round 64 the best of the day.

And don't forget those two 67s last year. It's not as if he's clueless on the main layout.

Nienaber in his first round three-ball

He's up against the American Johannes Veerman and fellow South African Justin Harding.

Veerman has completed very fine rounds at altitude, but has generally struggled.

He's finished T45th at Club de Campo, missed two cuts and finished T16th in Kenya, and missed a cut in Munich.

At Randpark he missed his first cut, then landed T13th and T35th (both times owing to a low round on the easy course, he didn't break 70 on Firethorn).

Harding has excellent form in Madrid, Munich and Kenya, but Randpark has so far baffled him with four starts and not even one weekend appearance.

Conclusion

The bold option might be to back Nienaber each way in the first round leader market; to believe in his good vibes and those low efforts in Madrid.

The safer option might be to take heed of those efforts; then take on Harding's course woes and Veerman's more typical difficulties at altitude.

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