Nedbank Challenge Preview, Picks & Analysis
ONCE upon a time the Nedbank Challenge was a nice little jolly for a select group of 12 golfers, who would arrive at Sun City knowing that they had a golden opportunity to load their wheelbarrows with huge amounts of Christmas spending money while playing 72 holes at one of the world's best and most exclusive golf resorts.
Now it is the penultimate event on the European Tour, with a full and star-studded field. There is still a huge amount of prize money on offer but more important than that are the Race to Dubai points that are available. For much of the season it has appeared that Tommy Fleetwood was certain to finish the season on top of the pile, but recent victories by Sergio Garcia in Spain and Justin Rose at both the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai and Turkish Airlines Open, have ramped up the pressure on the Englishman and opened up the Race to Dubai.
It now looks like we are heading for a thrilling finish, with Garcia, Rose and Spain's Jon Rahm all snapping at Fleetwood's heels.
The tournament was won in 2010 and 2011 by Lee Westwood, by Martin Kaymer in 2012, Thomas Bjorn in 2013, Danny Willett in 2014, Marc Leishman in 2015 and last year by Alex Noren.
Noren capped an incredible run of form with his win in his debut appearance in the event last year, as he became the first player from Sweden to secure four European Tour titles in a single season. His incredible golf continued when he became the first winner of a Rolex Series event – the European Tour’s new premium category of eight tournaments on the Race to Dubai – when he lifted the BMW PGA Championship trophy at Wentworth in May.
When he won in Sun City he did so thanks to a stunning final round of 63 that included an eagle and eight birdies as he took the title by six shots.
“Lifting the trophy in South Africa last year was the perfect end to a memorable season. I had tried to get into the event for many years, so to win in my first appearance was pretty special.
“I’m really looking forward to returning to the Nedbank Golf Challenge as defending champion. It’s a fantastic event, which now obviously holds some great memories for me."
Noren also produced a brilliant final round at Wentworth, storming through the field to record a scarcely-credible 62 on one of the toughest courses on the tour's schedule. He would love nothing more than to win again and will return to this venue with fond memories.
Fleetwood has only recently returned to action after taking a break for the birth of his son, and he is determined to finish off a memorable season by holding on to his lead in the Race to Dubai.
The young Englishman started the season by clinching his second European Tour title at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, followed by runner-up finishes at the WGC-Mexico Championship and Shenzhen International, before he took the title at the HNA Open de France – the second Rolex Series event of the season. He also challenged seriously for the US Open, won by Brooks Koepka.
Since his return he has broken the course record at Carnoustie, with a 63 during the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He said: “The Nedbank Golf Challenge is a big event, and we all know what's at stake at this stage of the season. I’ve said before that I would love to win the Race to Dubai, and a good result in South Africa could be very important heading into the last event. This will be the fourth year in a row that I have played this tournament. It’s one that we always look forward to, and even more so this year.”
There will be a huge amount of local support for 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. The South African possesses a swing to die for, generating a huge amount of distance with a glorious, lazy rhythm. Many knowing sages believe that Oosthuizen spends too much time tinkering with his putting stroke - one week he uses a conventional grip, the next he putts left hand low and the next he could just as easily turn up and adopt the claw grip.
But here is the thing. The player seems to have got it into his head that he is a bad putter, but the statistics tell a different story. So he drives the ball a long way and usually straight, his iron play is world class, around the greens he possesses the touch of an angel and he is one of the best bunker players on the planet. Put all that together and he should have won dozens of tournaments, but it just hasn't happened.
He should have taken some consolation from what Marc Leishman has achieved in 2017. The Australian has also been blessed with a fabulous all-round game but it is only this year that it has all come together for him - the same thing could happen for Oosthuizen.
Louis Oosthuizen. Overdue a victory
Tommy Fleetwood. Just a totally class act
Louis Oosthuizen. Is there a better swing anywhere?
Tommy Fleetwood. Desperate to win the Race to Dubai
Alex Noren. Nobody does it better
Brandon Stone. Brilliant South African
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Mr Consistency
Eddie Pepperell. Finally showing what he is made of
Kiradech Aphibarnrat. On the crest of a wave
Paul Dunne. Ireland's next big thing
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