The key talking points following an exciting week in South Africa.
After a dramatic week at the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player, take a look back at some of the major talking points from South Africa, including the tense battle for the Race to Dubai crown.
Victor comes good again
There is no denying Victor Dubuisson finds his A-game when the pressure is on. Both of Dubuisson’s European Tour wins came at the Turkish Airlines Open, one of the final events of both the 2013 and 2015 seasons. His record outside of those results backs up the theory, too – tied for third at the 2016 Nedbank Golf Challenge, a share of second at the 2014 DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, and two other top fours in the DP World Tour Championship in 2013 and 2016.
Despite not enjoying the most successful year, it should have been inevitable he would turn on the style when it counted. The Frenchman, a member of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team in 2014, had only had two top tens all year before last week, but found form when it mattered in South Africa. His surge up the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex means he heads to Dubai for the sixth year running knowing he could turn an average year into a very special one.
Impressive Li shines on Sunday
The signs have been there for a while, but Li Haotong showed again in Sun City why he could be a Major Champion in waiting. He arrived on tour with a win at the 2016 Volvo China Open. Before South Africa, he had recorded four other top tens in 2017, including outright third at The Open Championship, firing a final round of 63 in the process.
His iron-game was outstanding on Sunday at Gary Player CC, propelling him up the leaderboard and into a position to challenge for the title. He displayed similar prowess to claim a share of seventh at the HNA Open de France, helping the man from China to gain a strong foothold in the Rankings before that Open exhibition. 2018 holds plenty of promise for a man with no fear.
When Darren Fichardt woke up on Thursday morning he wasn’t expecting to be teeing it up in his native South Africa. Come Sunday evening, he was leaving Sun City with a share of sixth place. Anthony Wall’s withdrawal on Thursday meant the five-time tour winner was granted a chance to impress the locals, which he duly did with rounds of 71-69 before the weekend. A Saturday 75 didn’t dampen the 42 year old’s enthusiasm, though, and he posted a final round of 68 to please the home crowd.
In this game, one man’s misfortune often means an opportunity for someone else. Fichardt proved that with a strong performance to finish as the second-highest placed South African. Not bad for a man who wasn’t in the field on Wednesday evening.
Class is permanent
It may be three years since Lee Westwood’s last victory on the European Tour, but it always seems as if win number 24 is just around the corner. A season that has boasted five top tens, including one in South Africa last week, has seen Westwood show he still has the game to compete at the top level. It was only last year, of course, that he finished runner-up to Danny Willett at the Masters Tournament. With three top tens in the last couple of months, Westwood has finished the year well and will be looking forward to another crack at victory in Dubai this week.
The chance to qualify automatically for The 2018 Ryder Cup will provide Westwood with more incentive to produce the type of golf that has seen him make ten previous teams. He continues to prove that class is most certainly permanent.
Going for glory
Drama is guaranteed this week in Dubai. Tommy Fleetwood could have sewn up the Race to Dubai title with victory in South Africa, but a tied for tenth finish means Justin Rose or Sergio Garcia could yet win the ultimate prize. Fleetwood recovered from rounds of 73-74 to post a Saturday 67 and give himself an outside chance of victory on Sunday. Despite his top ten finish, one of Rose or Garcia now have a chance to win the first Race to Dubai crown.
Rose’s stunning back-to-back successes at the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open meant Fleetwood’s initially comfortable position atop the Rankings became a little less certain. With Masters Champion Garcia fresh from victory at the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, we could be set for an exhilarating finale to the season.