Nedbank Golf Challenge Preview, Picks & Analysis
TWELVE months ago Lee Westwood arrived in South Africa to take part in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. He had little or no form to speak of common g into the week, but won the tournament by three shots from Sergio Garcia, with home favourite Louis Oosthuizen a stroke further adrift.
His victory last year was an emotional one because not only was it so unexpected but it also saw him become the first European golfer to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge three times, following his victories in 2010 and 2011. He joined Ernie Els, David Frost and Nick Price as the only golfers to have won on three occasions.
This year, in what is also the 40th anniversary of Sun City and the Gary Player Country Club, Westwood will be looking to make history as the first golfer to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge four times, while Oosthuizen will be seeking to win the title for the first time.
Westwood’s final-round duel with Garcia and Oosthuizen last year resulted in the most successful edition of the tournament since it became a full European Tour event, with an overall attendance of 72 000 fans including over 20,000 each day on the weekend alone.
It is the penultimate event of the 2018-19 European Tour season and is a Rolex Series event boasting a huge prize fund for the field of 63. The winner of the 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge will take home $2.5m, twice the amount Westwood collected last year. The tournament also offers 10,000 Race to Dubai points, which places it above what the World Golf Championship tournaments offer.
One man who will be particularly intterested in those points is Tommy Fleetwood, who has not yet given up hope of finishing top of the Race to Dubai for the second time in three years, but he will need to win here and again in Dubai next week and hope that Bernd Wiesberger and Shane Lowry struggle.
Fleetwood last played in Sun City during his stellar 2017 season, when a top-10 finish proved to be crucial as he went on to top the Race to Dubai for the first time in his career. He is once again in contention to be crowned European Number One, currently sitting in 10th position in the rankings.
The 28-year-old enjoyed another dazzling season in 2018, including a memorable debut in The Ryder Cup, when he and Francesco Molinari became the first European pairing to win all four of their matches, helping Europe to a 17.5-10.5 triumph. He has had another wonderful season, recording four top-10 and seven top -20 finishes on the European Tour, including second place at The Open – his second runner-up finish in a major after the 2018 U.S. Open. He has also gone through the entire season in both Europe and on the PGA Tour without missing a single cut.
Fleetwood said: “This will be my fifth appearance at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and the Gary Player Country Club is a place that I always enjoy coming to. I obviously have good memories from the 2017 season, when my performance helped me to secure the Race to Dubai title. I’m in a good position in the rankings again, and hopefully I can build on that in South Africa and enjoy another strong end to the season.”
Welcoming Fleetwood’s participation, tournament host Gary Player said: “With Tommy now confirming his participation in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, our field has become even stronger, which was certainly one of our goals for this year. It’s a testament to the hard work of everyone involved with this tournament – the European Tour, Nedbank, Rolex and especially Sun International. Tommy is a terrific player in his prime. When the top players in the world show the importance of ‘Africa’s Major’, it brings even more people to Sun City and has a trickle-down effect on the local economy.”
Wiesberger is also in the field and will have something to say about Fleetwood’s hopes of success. The Austrian leads the Race to Dubai after his second Rolex Series win of 2019 at the Italian Open, adding to his Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open triumph in July. His first of three titles this season came at Made in Denmark in May, kick-starting a run of three wins in just 13 starts.
The 34-year-old, who has won seven times on the European Tour, is bidding to become the first Austrian to top the season-long rankings. “After a fantastic summer, I’m looking to end the season strongly and maintain my position at the top of the Race to Dubai,” said Wiesberger. “There is still so much to play for in the final few weeks of the season, especially with the increase in points on offer, but I couldn’t ask to be in a better position than I am at the moment. It was disappointing to miss last year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge due to injury, so I’m looking forward to returning to Sun City next month.”
Apart from Oosthuizen, there will be a strong South African challenge led by Branden Grace, Erik van Rooyen, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Justin Harding, Richard Sterne and George Coetzee, Ernie Els and Zander Lombard. Van Rooyen and Bezuidenhout have enjoyed successful campaigns.
After several near misses, Van Rooyen finally broke through with his first victory in the Scandinavian Invitation where he closed with a final round of 64 to hold off Matt Fitzpatrick and Henrik Stenson. Bezuidenhout made his European Tour breakthrough at the Andalucía Masters where he won by six shots, holding off Garcia and Jon Rahm. Harding joins them as the third South African to have made his European Tour breakthrough this year when he won the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
It also looks like the battle for Rookie of the Year honours between Kurt Kitayama and Robert MacIntyre is going right down to the wire. The American currently has a slight advantage after finished joint second at the Turkish Airlines Open but there is nothing in it and MacIntyre is determined to finish a wonderful season with his first win.
Tommy Fleetwood. Desperate to finish season in style
Louis Oosthuizen. Will have huge local support
Lee Westwood. Showed some decent form in Turkey last week
Tommy Fleetwood. His failure to finish the job off this season is a complete mystery
Louis Oosthuizen. Really should win far more than he does
Lee Westwood. Looking to create a piece of history
Bernd Wiesberger. Can wrap up Race to Dubai with a win.
Branden Grace. Could do with a win
Erik Van Rooyen. Fabulous golf swing
Matt Wallace. Can win anywhere
Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Full of confidence
Robert McIntrye. Having a dream rookie season
Justin Harding. Underrated South African
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