Ahead of the penultimate event of the 2016 Race to Dubai, europeantour.com gets down to the nitty gritty at the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Marc Leishman stormed to a six-shot victory last December, marking an emotional return to the winners’ circle for the Australian after having almost lost his wife to a life-threatening bacterial infection earlier that year.
Henrik Stenson, the 2008 champion of this event, pushed Leishman the closest with a 13 under total while the defending champion Danny Willett, the most recent European Tour Member to win the prestigious Nedbank Golf Challenge, was not far back in a share of fourth.
The Englishman’s victory here in 2014 - when it marked the opening tournament of the European Tour’s 2015 season - proved a sign of things to come.
He followed that up with a second win of the season at the Omega European Masters before going on to follow his Omega Dubai Desert Classic triumph early in 2016 with his crowning glory, claiming the Green Jacket at the Masters Tournament in April.
Race to Dubai leader Stenson makes his return to European Tour action in Sun City as he attempts to consolidate his number one position at an event which he won eight years ago and has otherwise enjoyed super form, finishing runner-up in his last visit in 2015 and fourth in 2013.
The Swede’s recent European Tour form is not to be sniffed at either, having won The Open in July followed by a top ten at the USPGA Championship and successive runner-up finishes at the Olympics and the WGC-HSBC Champions two weeks ago.
Willett is breathing down Stenson’s neck in the Race to Dubai, however, €252,163 behind in second place and he also enters this week knowing he can win at this venue, having already done so in 2015.
Alex Noren will be another with his eyes on usurping his compatriot at the top of the Race to Dubai, as he targets a fourth victory of the season and three in as many months.
Willett’s fellow Ryder Cup stars Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters and Andy Sullivan will also play, while Louis Oosthuizen - the highest-ranked South African on the Race to Dubai – is joined by the highest-ranked home star in the Official World Golf Ranking, Branden Grace, among many others.
The par-72 Gary Player Country Club is a gem in South Africa’s crown, built in an extinct volcanic crater and was in 2015 voted the country’s best golf course.
The 7,831-yard course rewards long and straight drives and there is not a lot of room for error from the tee, with testing rough and bush lining many fairways. The flat dimensions can be deceiving too, as water hazards and bunkers are placed cunningly to catch out any mistakes, while the multi-faceted greens leave plenty of options for tricky pin positions throughout the week.
Did you know?
• The Nedbank Golf Challenge became part of the European Tour International Schedule for the first time for the 2014 season. (The event was first played in 1981 and won by Johnny Miller). At the beginning of the 2014 season, the event was the 11th different European Tour event to be staged in South Africa.
• The Nedbank Golf Challenge became part of the European Tour’s Final Series for the first time this year.
• The Nedbank Golf Challenge is being played twice in the 2016 European Tour season. Other events to be played twice in the same season are: Volvo China Open (2006), UBS Hong Kong Open (2009), Australian Masters (2009), HSBC Champions (2009, was not a WGC in the first playing) and SA Open (2011).
• Three players have won the event on three occasions. They are: David Frost, Nick Price and Ernie Els. The South African holds the tournament scoring record with 263 (-25) back in 1999.
• There have been 13 different Major Champions who have their names etched on the Nedbank Golf Challenge’s roll of honour.
• Measuring 7,831 yards, the Gary Player Country Club is the third longest course in European Tour history. In second, 18 yards longer than Sun City, is the Ritz-Carlton Golf, venue for the WGC – Accenture Match Play Championship, from 2009-2011. The longest is another South African course, the Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate, where the 2014 Tshwane Open was played, measuring 7,964 yards.
• The Sun City venue also played host to European Tour competition prior to the Nedbank Golf Challenge. In 1996-1997 the Dimension Data Pro-Am took place and won by Mark McNulty (1996) and Nick Price (1997).