We're off to South Africa this week for the Race to Dubai's penultimate event. Read what's required to play well at the Gary Player Country Club with our man's detailed preview here...
“Judging by the most recent results, Greens In Regulation and Scrambling are the most important stats. Three of the last four winners have ranked first for GIR and the odd man out, Danny Willett, ranked third, and the last four winners have ranked 13th, first, first and third for Scrambling.”
The Nedbank Golf Challenge was first played in 1981 when Johnny Miller pocketed the then huge purse of $500,000. It remained an exclusive 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 before it underwent and even more expansive revamp 12 months ago.
Having been the middle leg of the European Tour's Final Series last year, this time around, the Nedbank Golf Challenge is the seventh Rolex Series event and the penultimate tournament of the season.
A field of 72 will assemble at the Gary Player Country Club to compete for the title in an event that has changed significantly of late.
As was the case in Turkey last week, there'll be no cut and all the competitors will play all four rounds.
The Gary Player Country Club, Sun City, South Africa.
Par 72, 7,831 yards
Stroke index in 2016 - 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.
In addition to hosting this tournament since day one, the Gary Player Country Club also hosted the Dimension Data Pro-Am on South Africa's Sunshine Tour up until 2009 and it's been the venue for the Sun City Challenge since 2012.
A hole-by hole guide on the event's website can be viewed here.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 7:00 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2016 - Alex Noren -14
2015 - Marc Leishman -19
2014 - Danny Willett -18
2013 - Thomas Bjorn -20
2012 - Martin Kaymer -8
What Will it Take to Win the Nedbank Golf Challenge?
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 important. 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. 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.
The penultimate winner, Marc Leishman, ranked sixth for Driving Distance and 12th for Driving Accuracy and last year's victor, Alex Noren, ranked 14th for DD and 39th for DA so Total Driving is a good stat to consider but judging by the most recent results Greens In Regulation and Scrambling are the most important stats. Three of the last four winners have ranked first for GIR and the odd man out, Danny Willett, ranked third, and the last four winners have ranked 13th, first, first and third for Scrambling.
Is There an Angle In?
I used to prioritise course form over everything else at Sun City but it's been all change of late. Prior to Danny Willett's victory here in 2014, we had to go back 28 years to find the last debutant winner and that didn't appear to be the case because few debutants played when there were only 12 entrants...
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 but it's been all change recently.
The 2013 winner, Thomas Bjorn, had only ever played Sun City twice before and that was in the last century in the Dimension Data, 16 years prior to his win, so he can't have been too familiar with the venue and the last three winners, as well as last year's runner-up, Jeunghun Wang, who traded at around 1.330/100 in-running, were all playing the course for the first time. The jury is now out about the strength of previous course form and having banged the course form is crucial drum for donkey's years, I'm beginning to think playing here without any previous experience may even be a positive!
This is a tough test of golf but if you're in form, scoring well is possible. Alex Noren came from six back to win by six last year with an incredible nine-under-par 63 in round four and he was the fourth winner in five years to be in great form before the off. Marc Leishman is the only winner in the last five years not to have finished inside the front four places in one of his three starts prior to winning here. Strong recent form looks key.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Multiple winners were fairly common. David Frost, Nick Price and Ernie Els have all won the event three times, in its old invitation only format, and five men, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk and Lee Westwood all won the event twice but as already alluded to, this is an event that appears to be changing quite considerably and the chances of a past champ prevailing look slim.
Price wise, Leishman was matched at 80.079/1 when he won but he's by some distance the biggest priced winner in many a year so outsiders have a poor record - although it would be remiss of me not to mention Wang again. He lost his way after double-bogeying the eighth in round four last year but he traded very short, having been a big outsider before the off.
Again, we have to bear in mind how much the tournament has changed and how much larger the fields are now but a fast start has been historically essential here.
Noren came for six adrift after three rounds but he sat only one adrift in a tie for fourth after round one last year and he was two clear at halfway. In 2014, Danny Willet trailed by five strokes after round one (tied for 11th)but the only other winner since 1998 to be trailing by more than two strokes after the opening round was Sergio Garcia 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 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.
The par five 14th was the only one of the final seven holes to average below par last year but even that's not an easy hole. Many a drive strays in to the bush to the right of the fairway and the green is guarded by huge bunkers and pampas grass.
We often get delays here for thunder but the forecast looks good this week and the wind doesn't look like it will be an issue this time around either.
Marmite golfer, Tyrrell Hatton, heads the market but he's not for me this week. The highly talented but highly strung Englishman is loved and loathed in almost equal measure by golf fans and I find it incredible how well he can play while grumbling and moaning about just about anything.
After a stunning run of form that saw him win back-to-back titles, he's finished 11th and 16th in his last two events without taking a break and I just wonder if he needs one.
Branden Grace has some decent form figures here but he isn't playing well enough to warrant support at less than 20/1 and fellow South African, Louis Oosthuizen, doesn't appeal either. He's won a Dimension Data here and he was second at the US PGA Championship in August but those two efforts apart, his course and current form are fairly ordinary.
I'm not convinced the currently consistent Matt Fitzpatrick is long enough and I fancy Tommy Fleetwood would have been better served to follow Justin Rose's lead and to have taken the week off. He's desperate to win the Race to Dubai and he's been teeing it up relentlessly in a bid to maintain his lead but I'm not sure it's working. He has a new baby at home too and he looks a bit jaded.
Ross Fisher is the only one towards the head of the market I considered backing but he doesn't win often enough. He was very unlucky last year to finish up in the dark after a weather delay in round two, when he double-bogeyed the last when only two off the lead. He lost his way after that but he likes the venue and he's finished inside the top-five places three times before from only five starts.
He was backed heavily two weeks ago in Shanghai after back-to-back seconds in Scotland and Italy, at a venue at which he'd previously shone but he disappointed badly. Maybe the weight of expectation proved too heavy or maybe he just struggled after two weeks in-contention? I expect he'll contend again this week but he's arguably short enough given his strike rate.
Bang in-form Thai, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, is an insulting price at 40.039/1 given he's no bigger than 30/1 on the High Street and that he was fifth here on debut in 2014 so I've thrown a few pounds at him and my only other pick is my each-way fancy, Dylan Frittelli, who scrambled ridiculously well when finishing runner-up to Justin Rose in Turkey on Sunday.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat @ 40.039/1
Dylan Frittelli @ 65.064/1
I'll be back later with my OHL Classic preview.
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