Nedbank Golf Challenge: Fisher has the game to shine at Sun City, says The Punter

Ross Fisher, one of The Punter’s two picks at the Nedbank
Ross Fisher, one of The Punter’s two picks at the Nedbank

After a break of one whole week, the European Tour kicks off again with the opening event of the 2014/2015 season and our man's raring to get going again. Read Steve's in-depth Nedbank Golf Challenge preview here...

“Ross Fisher is a long and straight driver who currently ranks fifth on the European Tour for Par 5 Scoring. He’s already won in South Africa this year, at the Tshwane Open in March, and judging by his recent playoff defeat at the BMW Masters in China last month, he’s in fair form as the year draws to an end.”

Tournament History 

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 last year when it became an official, co-sanctioned Sunshine and European Tour event for an extended field of 30. The full qualifying criteria are detailed here.

This year's renewal looks like being the most competitive staged and it's no surprise to see nobody trading in single-figures. It's also the first tournament of the 2014/2015 European Tour season.


Venue

The Gary Player Country Club, Sun City, South Africa


Course Details

Par 72, 7,831 yards
Stroke index in 2013 - 70.98

Gary Player's lengthy creation is a parkland course set in an extinct volcanic crater. It has fairly narrow Kikuyu fairways and Kikuyu rough which is said to be not too penal this year, thanks to a period of dry weather and a lack of growth. The small, well-bunkered Bent grass greens will run at 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.


Useful Sites
Event Site

Course Details
Twitter Link
Tee Times
Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports from 8.00am all four days, starting on Thursday 


Last Five Winners 

2013 - Thomas Bjorn -20
2012 - Martin Kaymer -8
2011 - Lee Westwood -15
2010 - Lee Westwood -17
2009 - Robert Allenby -11 (playoff)


What Will it Take to Win The Nedbank Challenge?

Thomas Bjorn ranked first for greens in regulation when winning 12 months ago but year after year the most important stat is total driving and that was the case again last time around. The first four on the driving distance stats, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Bjorn, all finished inside the top-six and they ranked first, second, fifth and eight for driving accuracy. It's a long course and getting it out there off the tee is crucial but so is finding the fairway - Kikuyu rough is notoriously hard to play from.


Is There an Angle In?

Course experience is absolutely essential and it's now 27 years since someone playing the course for the first time won. Bearing in mind that until last year, only 12 players lined up each year and that a number of first timers were always invited to play, that's a stat to be very wary of. 

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 last year 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. On paper, the likes of Gary Woodland and Victor Dubuisson had just the right game for the venue 12 months ago but their lack of course knowledge soon had them floundering. Think very carefully before you back a course debutant


Is There an Identikit Winner?

With so many first-timers struggling, it's perhaps not surprising that 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. 

Defending champs have a reasonable record too with Seve, Frost, Price, Els, Furyk and Westwood all managing to win back-to-back titles.


In-Play Tactics

It's 16 years since anyone won from more than two strokes behind after round one - Sergio Garcia trailed by three in 2003. Thomas Bjorn fell from second to fourth between rounds one and two last year before bouncing back to win by two strokes with rounds of 66 and 65 but he was the first winner not to be sitting first or second at halfway since Furyk sat third in 2005. 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 scoring well there is imperative, especially given the next three holes are tough - Bjorn played the 10th in six-under par last year!

If you're betting in-running, before playing the 9th is the time to strike, not after the 10th. Anyone birdying either or both of those two holes will definitely shorten-up in the market but unless they play them in two-under par or better they won't be making ground up on the field and any gains can soon be given up over the next three holes.


Market Leaders

Although it's a field of just 30, it's a very open looking tournament and we're betting double-figures the field with five players dominating. 

Current favourite, Jamie Donaldson, is a player you need to be wary of in-the-mix and last year's weak back-nine on Sunday here wasn't a one off. The Welshman led by three at halfway and he maintained that advantage through three rounds but he couldn't keep it going when it mattered. He played the first seven holes in two-under par in round four and after he'd pared the tricky 8th he looked in pole position to convert but he bogeyed the 9th and didn't deviate from par until an all-too-late birdie at the 17th. 

He will have been buoyed by his Ryder Cup debut this year and he clearly likes the course but his inability to get the job done means his price is just too short for me.

Two-time winner, Lee Westwood, tweeted this on Sunday. "Off across the world again. West Palm > NY > Dubai > Johannesburg > Sun City. Arrive 9am Tuesday and out in the pro-am at 11.20." That's quite a journey and not an ideal preparation for someone now in their 40s but that's just one of the reasons I don't want to back the Worksop Wonder...

As detailed in one of my recent De-Briefs, Westwood's in-contention record is getting poorer and so the fact that you need to be up with the pace all the way might go against him. He was in inspired form when he won back-to-back here in 2010 and 2011 and on both occasions he dominated throughout and won with something to spare but he doesn't impress in a battle these days and he's not in the best of form either.  

The South African pair of Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel will have their supporters but they're not for me. They've both played in the event numerous times and even in their pomp they've not really threatened to win. Schwartzel was runner-up to Martin Kaymer in 2012 and Louis finished fourth that year but that's as close as they've come. Both men won in their homeland at the beginning of last season but neither has been in terrific form of late and they're easy to dismiss at the prices. And so is Kaymer...

The impressive German has had a magnificent year but judging by his recent form he's most definitely in wind-down mode. He finished 6th at the HSBC Champions at the beginning of November but that course suits him to a tee and that's by some distance his best effort anywhere since August. He's been putting quite poorly for a while now and it's also worth pointing out that the course played much tougher than it usually does when he won here in 2012.

The next man in the betting is big-hitting American, Brooks Koepka, but he's playing here for the first time so a line went through his name immediately.


Selections

As already stated, defending champions have a decent record here and I'm happy to take a chance on the man attempting to double-up this time around. Defending a title is something veteran Dane, Thomas Bjorn, has never managed to do but that was the case for Henrik Stenson until two weeks ago and I'm not going to let that put me off. He hasn't won anywhere since he captured the title last year but he's always played well here and there's enough juice in the price for me to take a chance. 

Ross Fisher is a best price of 25/1 on the High Street and I certainly wouldn't have him any bigger so I was more than happy to back him at 36.035/1 and I've gone in again at 38.037/1.

The Englishman isn't one of my favourite players in-the-mix and he often finds a way to get beat but he has a good record in South Africa and he has just the right game for this venue, as he showed in his two previous visits when he finished third on debut in 2009 and fifth twelve months later.

He's a long and straight driver who currently ranks fifth on the European Tour for Par 5 Scoring. He's already won in South Africa this year, at the Tshwane Open in March, and judging by his recent playoff defeat at the BMW Masters in China last month, he's in fair form as the year draws to an end. 


Selections
Thomas Bjorn @ 28.027/1
Ross Fisher @ 36.035/1

I'll be back tomorrow with my Hero World Challenge preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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