Nedbank Golf Challenge Preview

Dave Tindall
Rotoworld

The penultimate event on the 2019 European Tour schedule takes us to South Africa for the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City.

A 64-man field lines up at the Gary Player-designed layout, with the top 50 on the Race to Dubai by close of play on Sunday punching their tickets to the season-ending DP World Tour Championship next week.

It’s a huge one for gamers playing the season-long European Tour fantasy offering as there’s an increase in RTD points from 7,500 to 10,000 this week. To give it context, that’s more than the 9,000 played for at World Golf Championship events.

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That said, despite the lure of points and money, a few of the biggest names have given the event a swerve so there’s no Rory McIlroy or Jon Rahm.

Lee Westwood took the trophy last year while Louis Oosthuizen heads the betting this time.

 

The Course

Gary Player CC can play 7,827 yards from the tips so it looks like a monster. However, the ball flies far and a look at winning scores shows that there are still plenty of birdies to be found. However, don’t expect a six-man play-off on 20-under as we got in Turkey last week. It’s South Africa so the fairways and rough are kikuya. The tree-lined landing areas on the parkland course are narrow, while the bentgrass greens are small and well guarded.

Last five winners and stats

2018 -15 Lee Westwood (DD: 26, DA: 36, GIR: 4, Scr: 14, PA: 1, AA: 1)

2017 -11 Branden Grace (DD: 63, DA: 54, GIR: 31, Scr: 12, PA: 4, AA: 31)

2016 -14 Alex Noren (DD: 14, DA: 39, GIR: 1, Scr: 13, PA: 4, AA: 4)

2015 -19 Marc Leishman (DD: 6, DA: 12, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 8, AA: 1)

2014 -18 Danny Willett (DD: N/A, DA: 23, GIR: 3, Scr: 1, PA: 3, AA: 3)

Notes: Despite the fairways being described as narrow, finding them relentlessly hasn’t been a pre-requisite. All of the last five winners had strong putting stats while four of those were ranked in the top four for greens in regulation.

As for older course form, this event was played with an elite line-up of just 12 up until 2013/14 when the field was increased to 30. The last three years we’ve seen it rise again to 72/73. If a player finished 11th in 2012, that was actually a poor week as they beat just one other rival!

 

The Weather

Temperatures are in the 80s, rising to 88 on Sunday, but this could be a frustrating stop-start week. T-storms are a threat on Thursday morning and Friday afternoon and there could be rain on Saturday too. Sunday looks clear at least although it could get a little gusty.

 

The Leading Contenders

Louis Oosthuizen

Still to win this event although he’s getting closer – 11th 2015, 9th 2016, 8th 2017 and 3rd last year. The local man has played just twice since August but on his latest start, the rust was definitely flying off as he took third place at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, ranking 3rd for GIR and 10th for Putting Average.

Tommy Fleetwood

Currently 10th in the Race to Dubai although he can still win it (28/1 to do so) with two huge weeks. Is he playing well enough though? In his last five starts, a T5 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is his only finish better than T20 and he was never at the races when T53 at the HSBC. That said, his GIR numbers remain impressive. Fleetwood’s course form is solid (T10, two T14s and T21) rather than spectacular.

Henrik Stenson

In theory, this is a very Stenson-friendly course and his results there back it up big time. The Swede has a win, three second places and nothing worse than T8 on his last visit in 2016 although bear in mind that some of those big results were in the 12-man field days. Perhaps of more relevance is his insistence that he’s not happy with his game. Those words seem justified when he missed the cut in Houston although T20 (four x 70s) in the HSBC was decent enough.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

The Englishman is still seeking a first win of the campaign to continue his record of having posted a victory in every European Tour season since 2015. He’s been mighty close, finishing runner-up three times since the end of June, and adding T7 (8th for GIR) at the WGC in China on his latest start. Course form? 16-20-8-27 since 2015.

Erik van Rooyen

One of the new wave of South African talent, EVR made his big breakthrough win by landing August’s Scandinavian Invitation and almost added a second trophy at last week’s Turkish Airlines Open, ending as one of the five losers in the six-man play-off. Eight top 20s in his last 11 worldwide starts and third for GIR in Turkey, the only negative is his T60 on debut here last year. However, he did once take part in a local Sunshine Tour event at Sun City in 2016 and took T9. At 8th, he’s the highest ranked South African on the Race to Dubai.

Rafa Cabrera Bello

Currently 20th on the Race to Dubai, RCB was runner-up in his home Spanish Open last month although just a little underwhelming on the Asia Swing with T26 in the CJ CUP, T30 at the ZOZO and T57 at the HSBC. His iron play lacked sharpness in those events although he’s had a week off to tinker. Not great course form, with T56 and T42 and no rounds in the 60s.

Robert MacIntyre

Like a couple of others on the European Tour this season, he’s been threatening to win on numerous occasions but hasn’t quite got over the line. Still, his outstanding rookie campaign shows no sign of quieting down and the Scot’s last three starts have produced a fourth in Italy, T17 at the WGC-HSBC and T7 in Turkey last week where he again put himself in the trophy hunt on Sunday. Course debut although he posted a pair of top 15s in two starts in South Africa last December.

Matt Wallace

An in-form Wallace would have been in the first three in the betting but he’s gone off the boil in recent starts. Being hard on yourself isn’t always bad – Tyrrell Hatton a prime example when winning in Turkey last week – but it’s easy to think that Wallace is getting in his own way after T60 in the HSBC and T50 in Turkey. On the plus side, he followed his T34 in 2017 here with a top five 12 months ago and he’s made the top 20 in his last three starts in South Africa.

Alex Noren

The Swede said he was playing some of his best golf of the season in Turkey last week but, after sitting second at halfway, his challenge fizzled out (T28). It followed a pair of top 20s (Bermuda, Open de France) so something (his irons rather than his putting say the stats) is starting to click. This looks a good place for his game to keep trending upwards as he won the title in 2017 thanks to a closing 63 and was T12 when defending last year.

Bernd Wiesberger

The Austrian has a healthy lead atop the Race to Dubai and can extend it here with Nos. 2 and 3 (Jon Rahm and Shane Lowry) absent. Wiesberger has three wins since the end of May, the latest in last month’s Italian Open, although he’s gone a little flat since with T49 at both the HSBC and Turkish Airlines Open. Two starts at Sun City have yielded T25 in 2015 and T19 in 2017.

Course Horse/Neat Fit

HaoTong Li

The Chinese star took T20 on his Sun City debut and has crashed the top five in each of the last two years after hot closing rounds. Subdued in Turkey although improved on the weekend. T24 at WGC-HSBC.

Lee Westwood

The defending champion is actually a four-time winner at Sun City so ranks it as one of his favorite courses. The first was a Sunshine Tour victory in 2000 while he beat 12-man line-ups to triumph in 2010 and 2011. However, the field was bigger than this week’s when he closed with a stunning 64 to take the title last year. Westwood’s form had been poor since his top four at Royal Portrush but he found his game again with T10 in Turkey last week.

Branden Grace

Went 4-3-1 at Sun City from 2015 to 2017 and followed his victory two years with a decent defense (T11) last time. His current form has fallen off a cliff though – seven missed cuts in his last 12 events and just a single top 30. Gets in the field on an invite.

Justin Harding

It’s his Nedbank debut but the local man has managed T8 and T6 in his last two starts at the course in Sunshine Tour events. Hinting at some good form after T7 in Spain and T25 in Turkey although not at the levels which took him into the world’s top 50 earlier this season.

Scott Jamieson

The Scot is a specialist in South Africa. He won his one European Tour title there (2013 Nelson Mandela) and his last seven starts in the country show a second (this event two years ago), a third, a fourth and a seventh. Came back to form with T10 in Turkey on Sunday.

 

Trending

Kurt Kitayama

A two-time winner earlier in the season, he’s now challenging for the bigger end-of-season prizes, making a huge leap up the Race to Dubai to 11th with three top fours in his last four starts including a play-off loss in Turkey. Debut but T15 at South African Open earlier this year.

Marcus Kinhult

Been consistent for a while but has upped it in recent starts, connecting a trio of top 20s in Italy, France and Turkey. Almost last in this event 12 months ago after a Saturday 83.

JB Hansen

It’s been a big couple of months for the Dane with fourth in Spain, second place in France and another top ten in Turkey where he fired four 68s. Another making his first start here. T6 in 2017 Joburg Open.

Shubhankar Sharma

A top 20 at Wentworth in September suggested better times ahead for the young Indian and he’s shown that with a pair of T7s in his last four starts (Italy and Turkey). Closed with 64 in Turkey on Sunday. T27 here last year and won the 2017 Joburg Open on his only other appearance in South Africa.

Guido Migliozzi

Two wins this year but followed the second with five MCs in eight starts. However, he’s found a spark again with T14 in Portugal and T10 in Turkey on his last two appearances. First look at Sun City.

 

Sleeper Picks

Let’s start this section with those just outside the top 50, looking to qualify for Dubai next week:

Sebastian Soderberg (51)

European Masters winner at start of September. 4-for-5 since and T25 in Italian Open. T11 at 2017 Joburg Open.

Masahiro Kawamura (53)

T7 in Spain, T22 at WGC-HSBC and middle rounds of 67-66 in Turkey before falling away. T18 on last start in South Africa.

Ryan Fox (54)

Really lost his form but now has three top 25s in last four starts so knocking on the door to Dubai again. No course form however (T50 and T52).

Nicolas Colsaerts (57)

Put himself in contention for Dubai with victory in the Open de France two starts ago and followed it with T38 in Turkey. Course form: 35-57-37-10.

Richie Ramsay (58)

Has gone from worrying about his card to having a real opportunity to make it to the season ender after three top tens in last five starts. Decent course form of T19 (2017) and T25 (2016).

Jason Scrivener (59)

Another making a late push. The Aussie, who was born in South Africa, kick-started a 4-for-4 run with T7 in Spain and added T21 in Turkey. Solid T16 on his Nedbank debut in 2018.

And looking a little further down…

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (72)

Fell away in Turkey after closing with 77 but T8 in CJ CUP before that. Has a top five at this week’s course from 2014.

Alvaro Quiros (75)

Would love to get to Dubai, a part of the globe where he’s thrived. First start at Nedbank and form not great again but he can just pop.

Zander Lombard (76)

Scraped into the field but has home-soil advantage and some decent current form (T17 in Turkey and T7 in Spain).

Ernie Els

One of three invites along with Grace and Padraig Harrington. T32 at Royal Portrush shows that the Springbok legend can still play the game. Three-time winner here in the small-field format but not played since T29 in 2013.

 

Rankings

1. Louis Oosthuizen
2. Matthew Fitzpatrick
3. Tommy Fleetwood
4. Henrik Stenson
5. Erik van Rooyen
6. Kurt Kitayama
7. Alex Noren
8. Robert MacIntyre
9. Matt Wallace
10. Bernd Wiesberger
11. HaoTong Li
12. Rafa Cabrera Bello
13. Christiaan Bezuidenhout
14. Lee Westwood
15. Thomas Pieters
16. Paul Waring
17. Martin Kaymer
18. Andrea Pavan
19. Ian Poulter
20. Thomas Detry

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