Dave Tindall

Across the Pond

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Nedbank Golf Challenge Preview

Monday, November 6, 2017


Tommy Fleetwood looked a virtual certainty to win the Race to Dubai a couple of weeks ago but suddenly Justin Rose has blown it wide open after victory in the WGC-HSBC Champions followed by another at the Turkish Airlines Open.

 

Landing a WGC and a Rolex Series event in back-to-back weeks will do wonders for the bank account and Rose has pocketed over 2.3 million Euros/points after his triumphs in China and Turkey.

 

It’s vaulted him to 3,979,250 overall and within touching distance of Fleetwood’s 4,114,088.

 

The purse at this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa is $7,500,000 – 500,000 up from the six previous Rolex Series events – so it’s another chance for the leading contenders to make a move although Rose sits this one out.

 

It leaves the door open for Fleetwood to build his lead up ahead of the concluding DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next week.

 

The next highest Race to Dubai contender taking part is fifth-placed Tyrrell Hatton as Spaniards Sergio Garcia (third) and Jon Rahm (fourth) stay at home, just as they did last week.

 

Long-time observers will remember this event as a 12-man end-of-season shootout which started in 1981. The tournament’s evolution to penultimate event on the Race to Dubai included it being given world ranking points for the first time in 2006 before gaining European Tour status in 2013/2014 when the field was increased to 30.

 

This week, a field of 73 battle it out – the top 70 entrants from the Race to Dubai and three invites.

 

 

The Course

 

Gary Player Country Club is a parkland course featuring narrow Kikuya fairways and rough along with small, well-protected Bentgrass greens. Water hazards are in play on holes 9, 17 and 18. It’ll catch players out if they’re not on their games but yield birdies to those in form. It can stretch to 7,831 yards from the tips although winning scores were between 18- and 20-under from 204-2016. However, it played much tougher last year and Noren (-14) was the only player to hit double digits under par as he romped home by six shots.

 

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

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

2014 -18 Danny Willett (DD: NA, DA: 23, GIR: 3, Src: 1, PA: 3, AA: 3)

2013 -20 Thomas Bjorn (DD: 4, DA: 5, GIR: 3, Src: 1, PA: 5, AA: 1)

 

Notes: Recipe for success? Hit lots of greens, scramble well when you miss and putt well. Easy! As for hitting it long, last year’s runner-up Jeunghun Wang and third-placed Alejandro Canizares are short hitters who ranked 47th and 59th respectively for Driving Distance. The length of the course shouldn’t put you off those who don’t boom it off the tee.

 

 

The Weather

 

The mercury rises to over 100 in the build-up but thankfully cools a little for tournament week.  It’ll still be very hot though and should touch 90 degrees on the weekend. As usual in this part of the world, there could be a few thundershowers while it may be a little gusty on Sunday.

 

 

The Leading Contenders – listed in Race to Dubai order (ranking in brackets)

 

Tommy Fleetwood (1)

The Race to Dubai leader said he’d enter all the closing events just in case someone jumped from the pack to challenge and that looks a wise move with the clattering hooves of Justin Rose now ringing loudly in his ears. Fleetwood has connected four top 25s in his last four starts but T23 (Turkey) and T20 (HSBC) in the last two suggest he’s hanging on a bit rather than producing a kick-finish. His form here of 14-21-14 looks pretty decent although remember that the first two of those came in 30-man fields. One obvious plus is that he finished T1 for Greens In Regulation last week so if his putter can keep pace, he could really fly again.

 

Louis Oosthuizen

His focus has been on the PGA TOUR this season so he has no Race to Dubai ranking and has to rely on an invite this week. But local hero Oosthuizen has to be inserted highly and some UK bookies make him joint-favourite. That’s natural given that the event is in his South African homeland. T9 in this event last year added to 11-7-14 in the 30-man field era while he also won a Sunshine Tour event at the course in 2007. We saw him most recently at the Presidents Cup while he went 10-30-63 through the FedExCup play-offs after finishing runner-up in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.

 

Tyrrell Hatton (5)

The third Englishman still hoping to finish as Race to Dubai winner although he’ll need two huge weeks to close. Since his back-to-back wins at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open, Hatton has finished T11 in the WGC-HSBC and T16 at the Turkish Airlines Open but, such are the high standards he sets himself, he snapped his putter at the end of round three in Turkey after frustrations boiled over. Is he too mentally frazzled after a long season? Hatton was T25 on his course debut last year while he has a best finish in South Africa of second (2014 Joburg Open).

 

Ross Fisher (6)

Fisher won the Tshwane Open in 2014 and was runner-up to Danny Willett in this event later that year so has some good form in South Africa. He’s had a couple of real purple patches this year and gave his season a huge boost with back-to-back second places at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open last month. Surprisingly, given past course form, he finished down in T58 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China so will want to bounce back here. 20th for GIR this season.

 

Rafa Cabrera-Bello (7)

This is RCB’s second start at Gary Player CC and he certainly didn’t get to grips with it last year after shooting 76-72-77-73 (+10) to finish T55 of the 72-man field. That said, he’s had a superb 2017 and is coming on strong again at the finish after banking some serious cash in October thanks to T10 at the CIMB Classic, T11 in the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges and T5 in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China two weeks ago. He was top for GIR in Korea and second for Scrambling.

 

Alex Noren (8)

The defending champion. Noren won by six last year, claiming his fourth win in the space of 11 events. Inevitably, he’s not at those golden heights this time and October brought the distinctly modest finishes of MC-38-31. A top six in the European Masters is his only top 25 in six starts so gamers may choose to think the magic has gone and pass him by. The positive vibes should return although his greens in regulation numbers in recent events are a concern.

 

Francesco Molinari (9)

He looked a great pick for the WGC-HSBC Champions in China but proved there are no certainties in golf by opening with 77 and finishing T46. Nevertheless, the Italian still placed third for GIR there so it was basically a bad putting week that meant he couldn’t build on the promise of T6 in the Italian Open and T12 at the BMW Championship on his previous two starts. Molinari finished 12th of 30 in his only appearance in this event in 2013, ending 69-67 after an opening 76.

 

Bernd Wiesberger (12)

The Austrian won’t want to recall his previous lap at the Gary Player Country Club. That was an 81 in 2015 that left him 25th of 30 at the finish although a Saturday 68 showed he could score there. An infrequent visitor to South Africa, he won’t be as familiar with the Kikuya as many of his rivals although his strong iron play is a good fit for the course. Wiesberger is usual a reliable sort but his last five finishes, starting with the KLM Open, read 9-MC-45-9-MC so managers aren’t really sure what to expect from him at the moment.

 

Matthew Fitzpatrick (13)

In contrast to Wiesberger, Fitzpatrick is super-consistent right now, taking his run of consecutive top 15s to six via T11 in last week’s Turkish Airlines Open. He perhaps didn’t look as sharp overall in Turkey but is still scoring well even without his best stuff. T5 in the South African Open in late 2015 when still trying to find his way at this level, the Englishman was 16th of 30 on his Nedbank debut two years ago and 20th of 72 last year. It’s reasonable to expect a first top 10 this time.

 

Branden Grace (36)

He’s down at 34th on the Race to Dubai but has to be considered one of the leading contenders this week. Grace has a superb record on home soil with two wins, four other top fours and a further three top 10s in 13 starts since 2013. You’ll find him outside the top 20 in South Africa just once since 2012. He has some excellent course form with third place last year and fourth in 2015 and returns home showing strong GIR figures in his last two starts – T15 in both the CJ Cup and WGC-HSBC Champions.

 

Shane Lowry (49)

Surprisingly, the Irishman only played himself into the top 60 with a big finish last week but he also has to be placed in the top bracket. That T8 in Turkey threatened to be much better before he stalled on Sunday and ended with a 72. A closing 72 also left him T12 at the Andalucia Valderrama Master before that but he’s clearly close to putting it all together. Lowry took T11 on his course debut in 2014 and was T25 out of 72 last year although he’s yet to break 70 around this track.


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Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky Sports.com in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on tindall_david@hotmail.com and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.
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