Nedbank Golf Challenge: Course specialist Stenson impossible to oppose in Sun City

Henrik Stenson - the man to beat at Sun City
Henrik Stenson - the man to beat at Sun City

The middle leg of the European Tour's Final Series takes place in South Africa this week as an extended field of 72 compete for the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Read what Steve thinks it will take to succeed at the Gary Player Country Club here...

"As hard as I’ve tried, I can’t get passed Henrik Stenson and I can’t see any reason why he wouldn’t figure again this time around. He arrives this year as the in-form Open Champion and I can see him dominating the tournament like he did in 2008 and anything over 5.04/1 looks fair enough to me."

Tournament History

The Nedbank Golf Challenge features on the 2016 European Tour schedule for a second time this year having also been staged last December at the beginning of the current season.

On that occasion, for the third season in-a-row, a field of 30 assembled at the Gary Player Country Club to battle it out but this time around 72 players compete for the title in an event that has changed significantly of late.

Now the middle leg of the European Tour's Final Series, the Nedbank Golf Challenge was first played in 1981 when Johnny Miller pocketed the then huge purse of $500,000. It remained a select 12-man invitational event right up until 2013 when it became an official co-sanctioned Sunshine and European Tour event for an extended field of 30.

As was the case in Turkey last week, there'll be no cut and all the competitors will play all four rounds.


Venue

The Gary Player Country Club, Sun City, South Africa


Course Details

Par 72, 7,831 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 70.88

Gary Player's lengthy creation is a parkland course set in an extinct volcanic crater. It has fairly narrow Kikuyu fairways and Kikuyu rough. The small, well-bunkered Bent grass greens usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter.

The Gary Player Country Club has hosted this tournament since day one and up until 2009 it was also the venue for the Dimension Data Pro-Am on South Africa's Sunshine Tour.

A hole-by hole guide on the event's website can be viewed here.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 9:00 on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2015 - Marc Leishman -19
2014 - Danny Willett -18
2013 - Thomas Bjorn -20
2012 - Martin Kaymer -8
2011 - Lee Westwood -15


What Will it Take to Win the Nedbank Golf Challenge?

Accuracy is needed off the tee and from the fairway. The last three winners have all ranked first or second for Greens In Regulation but I still think the most important stat to consider is Total Driving.

Lee Westwood has long been regarded as one of the best drivers in the world and it's no coincidence that he's prospered here, winning the event back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.

Although it's not as long as the yardage suggests, as it's at altitude and the ball travels further, Sun City is still a long course and getting it out there off the tee is crucial. And so is finding the fairways. The Kikuyu rough is notoriously hard to play from and missing fairways with regularity makes it impossible to find the number of greens necessary to compete.

December's winner, Marc Leishman, ranked sixth for Driving Distance and 12th for Driving Accuracy and I'd consider Total Driving as the best stat to peruse so here's the top-ten on the European Tour over the last six months and I'm not surprised to see that three of the top-five in the standings - Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer - are all former winners of the event.

Henrik Stenson
Sergio Garcia
Francesco Molinari
Emiliano Grillo
Martin Kaymer
Gregory Bourdy
Soren Kjeldsen
Shane Lowry
Russell Knox
Graham McDowell


Is There an Angle In?

The last two winners here, Leishman and Danny Willett, were both playing the course for the first time but you have to go back 30 years to find the last debutant winner and I'd still be inclined to look far more favourably upon those with course experience.

After his victory, Leishman said that he learnt where all the dangers were in his practice round and he certainly got to grips with the venue very quickly indeed but I'd still favour previous course experience highly. With the field size more than doubled, those that have played here previously are in the minority but I'd still be surprised if we get a third debutant winner in-a-row given we went almost 30 years without a first timer winning.

Bearing in mind that until 2013, only 12 players lined up each year and that a number of first timers were always invited to play, the poor record of debutants is striking

In the 2012 edition, five of the 12 were making their debut but only one of the five, Bill Haas, who finished third, finished inside the top-six and in 2013 more than half the field were playing Sun City for the first time and yet only one of them, Brendon de Jonge, managed to finish inside the top-six.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

As I've already alluded to, course form stands up really well and multiple winners are fairly common. David Frost, Nick Price and Ernie Els have all won the event three times and five men, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk and Lee Westwood have all won the event twice.


In-Play Tactics

A fast start is essential here. Danny Willett trailed by five strokes after round one two years ago and he was tied for 11th but the only other winner since 1998 to be trailing by more than two strokes after the opening round was Sergio in and but he only trailed by three! If you're going to bet in-running, concentrate on the early pace-setters.

The par fives are key here and what you do around the turn is vital. Holes 9 and 10 are both reachable par 5s and the par four 11th has ranked as the third or fourth easiest hole in each of the last three years so scoring well there is imperative.

If you're betting in-running, before playing the 9th is the time to strike and not after the 11th. Anyone birdying either or both of the two long holes will definitely shorten-up in the market but unless they play them in two-under par or better they won't be making any ground up on the field and any gains can soon be given up over the tough finishing stretch.


Market Leaders

In six Nedbank appearances, Henrik Stenson has finished no worse than fourth. He finished runner-up on debut ten years ago, won the event in 2008 and traded at odds-on last year before again finishing runner-up.

The Open Champion arrives in Sun City nicely rested after his second place finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions event, where he ranked first for Driving Accuracy and fourth for Greens In Regulation (no stats produced for Driving Distance) and it's absolutely no surprise to see him heading the market. He is without doubt the man they all have to beat this week and I wouldn't want to put anyone off him, despite his somewhat prohibitive odds.

Prolific Swede, Alex Noren, will be fancied by many to notch for what would be the fourth time in 11 starts but he's not for me. Driving accuracy isn't necessarily one of Noren's strengths and he's seeing Sun City for the first time.

The 2012 winner, Martin Kaymer, was a big disappointment at the WGC-HSBC Champions last time out, at a course that he really likes, and having backed him there, I'm happy to give him a miss here. The German appears a little short on confidence of late and he hasn't performed well in-contention in ages and I'm more than happy to dismiss him given he's finished in the bottom half of the field here in each of his last three appearances.

Charl Schwartzel finished runner-up to Kaymer in 2012 but that effort aside, his form figures here aren't great. He often has spells where his driving is poor and that might explain why his record's so poor he looks another one worth swerving.

Ross Fisher plays this track well and he's been in great form of late but he's just too short given how infrequently he wins. Some lucky so-and-so has been matched at 50.049/1 but he's now less than half that price and given I backed him last year at 35.0, when he performed poorly at the venue for the first time, I'm not prepared to back him at less than 30.029/1 on this occasion.


Selections

As hard as I've tried, I can't get passed Henrik Stenson and I can't see any reason why he wouldn't figure again this time around.

After hitting a low of 1.364/11 in-running last year, he was outfought by Leishman and the Aussie won with ease but after a season which saw him get beat on too many occasions he had every right to be battle-weary. He was also feeling unwell in the lead up to the event and during the first few rounds and knowing he was going under the knife for knee surgery straight after the event couldn't have helped much either so there were valid excuses for his defeat.

He arrives this year as the in-form Open Champion and I can see him dominating the tournament like he did in 2008 and anything over 5.04/1 looks fair enough to me.

My only other pick is last year's third, Chris Wood. The brand new Ryder Cupper did well to compete at all so to finish third was an incredible performance. This is what he told the European Tour website after the event.

"It's hard to believe at the moment," he said. "On Tuesday night I was on a drip for 13 hours and there was no chance of me playing, given the way I felt.

"I was wheeled through the hotel in a wheelchair and tucked into bed by three men - two doctors and a guy from the hotel. I was in a bad way. So whatever the result was I was just glad to be playing, so to finish third is amazing.

"The heat just got me on Sunday on Monday and I had to pull out of the pro-am on Tuesday and then didn't hit a shot until Thursday. I was pretty weak but the doctors have been monitoring me each day and I managed to complete four rounds which I never thought I would."

Wood isn't always the most accurate off the tee and that does put me off to a degree but at 40/1 there's enough juice in his price to overlook that negative. When he has performed well, he's driven nice and straight (ranked 7th for DA when he won the BMW in May), so he is capable of putting in the right sort of performance to fare well here.


Selections (both Sportsbook)
Henrik Stenson @ 9/2
Chris Wood @ 40/1


I'll be back tomorrow with my OHL Classic preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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