For the first time in three years, Sun City will once again have the golfing world’s attention as the Nedbank Golf Challenge rolls into town.
So much has changed in the golfing landscape since Tommy Fleetwood took the famed crystal ball back to England. The winner’s cheque – then $2.5million and the largest in European Tour history – is down to just over $1 million. And it’s not even the European Tour anymore but the DP World Tour.
Of course, we don’t need to at this junction go into why talking about prize money matters in the world of pro golf.
It’s a great pity that many of Europe’s top players have decided to skip Gary Player Country Club for the 40th anniversary – a much-delayed one with two years missed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Only defending champion Fleetwood and Ryan Fox are top 50 players in the world and attending this Rolex Series event.
Thriston Lawrence, Oliver Bekker, Zander Lombard, George Coetzee, Justin Walters, Shaun Norris, JC Ritchie, Branden Grace, Richard Sterne and Christiaan Bezuidenhout are the SA contingent. Not amongst this list are Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel – either uninvited or not interested in this great event this year.
Naming all 10 local players in the field of 66 players is important because at the “Caddie Graveyard” – the nickname given to the course due to the difficulties faced by the loopers with swirling winds and altitude – home ground advantage certainly counts.
Grace is a winner on the LIV Tour this year and of course, he is the last Saffa to win the event which came back in 2017. Bezuidenhout has good memories here after winning the 2020 SA Open and Bekker was second a year later.
Thriston Lawrence is an outsider but has won on the DP World Tour this season and arrives off the back of a top 10 in Spain. He’s now a top 100 player in the world and with experience in these conditions, could be one to watch for a big breakthrough on home soil.
Key to success this week will be playing the par 5s well – with altitude a factor, the course isn’t tremendously long and a good, straight drive will be setting up attacking approaches. Conversely, poor driving will be heavily punished and will lead to considerably tamer scores on the four par 5s.
Fleetwood played the par 5s in -12 when he won in 2019 which goes to show how crucial this aspect is. Look for players who have good driving numbers – both distance and accuracy coupled with players who have experience playing the Sun City course.
The clover-shaped greens are set to be furiously fast once again, so approach play will be the top priority as well bogey avoidance.
That said, who can challenge Fleetwood, who is looking to become the first back-to-back winner since compatriot Lee Westwood did it in 2011?
Thomas Detry – 18.00
The Belgian has loads of experience at this course which I’ve stressed as important. He was 7th in 2018 and then 3rd in 2019 – and struggled with a closing round 74. Detry hits it miles and is playing some of the most consistent golf of his career with seven straight cuts made including a T5 at the BMW PGA Championship, a top 10 at the Sanderson Farms, a 2nd place at the Bermuda Championship and a top 20 last week in Mexico. He’s primed.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout – 20.00
One of the highest-ranked players in the field this week, I’ve mentioned that he won here in 2020 at the SA Open. He got to -18 that week in a stellar performance. And he also backed up his defence with a T6 performance. Clearly, he likes the place. He’s been brilliantly consistent this season with a close run at the John Deere Classic. Few doubt his classy all-round game and is definitely going to feel the love from the expected capacity crowd.
Adrian Otaegui – 37.00
Ticks boxes … winner this season (at Valderrama no less), 6th for driving accuracy this season, the Spaniard banked a top 20 here in 2018 as well as two top 20s recently and a top 5 at the Hero Open. That all goes with that Andalucia Masters victory. It adds up nicely with some local experience plus good current form and a decent price. Otaegui is certainly one to watch if the putter behaves.