The crossbar was smashed once again last week as Tyrrell Hatton stumbled over the line under the floodlights in Turkey, exactly a week after flattering to deceive when carrying our money in China. That frustration was doubled as headline pick Victor Perez was one of those who missed out on the title in the 6-man play-off, having had a putt to take the trophy home in regulation play drift past the hole on the 72nd green.
As the European Tour season nears completion, as per the last three years the Nedbank Golf Challenge is the penultimate event ahead of next week’s finale at Greg Norman’s Earth Course in Dubai. Once an event reserved for no more than a dozen players each competing for a share of the biggest prize fund in South African golf, the format has evolved of late having become a 30-man event in 2013 when it was first co-sanctioned, before being expanded to 78 players for the past 3 years. A change again this year though as just 63 tee it up this time (top 60 available in the Race to Dubai, plus 3 invites) as the players jostle for position ahead of next week’s main event.
There was little change at the very top of the Race to Dubai rankings last week with Bernd Wiesberger and Shane Lowry treading water, meaning that only eventual winner Tyrrell Hatton made any real progress, however with the Englishman not playing this week that’s going to be of little consequence to the overall race. With Matt Fitzpatrick the only player in the top-5 who can make any inroads into Wiesberger’s position this week, it’s once again a huge opportunity for the Austrian to put daylight between himself and the chasing pack, however he’s going to need to improve over his last few outings if he’s going to make his lead virtually unassailable.
Given the continued apathy from those who reside in the upper echelons of the season-long points list, we find ourselves with a pretty open field here this week, headed by Louis Oosthuizen at 10/1 at the time of writing. Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson and Matt Fitzpatrick all rate as 16/1 shots or shorter in this no cut event.
Course Overview. The 7,831 yard Gary Player Country Club at Sun City is the venue for the Nedbank Golf Challenge – on paper the course looks a brute in terms of length, however it’s worth considering that the altitude will reduce that yardage as it often does in South Africa and officials have a tendency to play around with tee positions between rounds, so don’t expect this to play purely into the hands of the bombers and nobody else. That said, length is certainly of assistance on the par-5s which provide the best scoring chances and those players with a level of controlled aggression will tend to enjoy this track more than most.
The fairways aren’t particularly wide for this style of long, South African course and the greens are slick bentgrass that will reap a score for players who can find putting surfaces in the right number, however veering off of the fairway can leave players in some very tricky spots with thick rough in places, plus trees and bushes there to punish the errant.
Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Stats.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2018: Lee Westwood, 40/1; 2017: Branden Grace, 16/1; 2016: Alex Noren, 20/1; 2015: Marc Leishman, 66/1; 2014: Danny Willett, 25/1; 2013: Thomas Bjorn, 30/1.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Sun City is here. Thunderstorms will soften the course ahead of the tournament itself, with Thursday holding the biggest risk of any final disruptions before the weather clears. From there on we should expect hot and sunny conditions with temperatures edging towards 90 Fahrenheit, accompanied by light winds of 5-10mph.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the last 6 winners of this event gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
- 2018, Lee Westwood (-15). 51.8% fairways (36th), 76.4% greens in regulation (4th), 52.9% scrambling (14th), 1.64 putts per GIR (1st)
- 2017, Branden Grace (-11). 42.9% fairways (54th), 62.5% greens in regulation (31st), 59.3% scrambling (12th), 1.64 putts per GIR (4th)
- 2016, Alex Noren (-14). 46.4% fairways (39th), 75% greens in regulation (1st), 55.6% scrambling (13th), 1.69 putts per GIR (4th)
- 2015, Marc Leishman (-19). 50% fairways (12th), 76.4% greens in regulation (1st), 94.1% scrambling (1st), 1.73 putts per GIR (8th)
- 2014, Danny Willett (-18). 46.4% fairways (23rd), 70.8% greens in regulation (3rd), 85.7% scrambling (1st), 1.69 putts per GIR (3rd)
- 2013, Thomas Bjorn (-20). 64.3% fairways (3rd), 77.8% greens in regulation (1st), 81.3% scrambling (3rd), 1.66 putts per GIR (4th)
Since its move to the European Tour, the winning formula here has been to maximise greens hit coupled with a strong enough short game to minimise bogeys. The card would suggest that bombers should thrive here, however with the likes of Thomas Bjorn as well as Trevor Immelman and Jim Furyk (twice) having lifted this trophy over the years, I’d suggest an accurate type is equally if not more likely to win this event.
Incoming Form: In terms of incoming form, last year’s winner Lee Westwood had heavily hinted that a first win for 3 years might be on the cards with 5th place finishes at the Italian Open and Valderrama Masters in his last 12 starts, as well as a play-off defeat to Matt Wallace in Denmark.
Prior to that, Branden Grace hadn’t recorded a top-5 finish all year, however 6th at the Open Championship and 15th on his previous start at the WGC HSBC Champions hinted at some decent underlying form; conversely Alex Noren completed his 4th victory of the year here in 2016 and was clearly playing some excellent golf.
Marc Leishman had lost out in a play-off at the Open Championship earlier in the year in 2015 and 11th on his penultimate start at Sheshan showed some positive form also. Danny Willett had recorded 3 top-10 finishes in his previous 8 starts before winning here in 2014, the most recent of which was in Turkey on his penultimate start, whereas Thomas Bjorn had finished 2nd at the World Cup on his last start and had won at Crans a few weeks before:
- 2018, Lee Westwood: 5/WD/19/32/61/61/2/12/36/MC/5/35
- 2017, Branden Grace: 9/50/15/6/28/MC/MC/25/47/32/15/15
- 2016, Alex Noren: MC/8/1/46/49/2/1/34/11/1/37/12
- 2015, Marc Leishman: 5/MC/39/MC/2/33/MC/MC/MC/29/11/MC
- 2014, Danny Willett: 11/MC/30/13/5/32/MC/7/WD/21/4/21
- 2013, Thomas Bjorn: MC/73/MC/MC/58/1/57/5/39/18/21/2
Event Form: The last 2 winners here, Westwood and Grace, both had strong records here at Sun City and both encouraged further investigation. Prior to that, the previous 4 winners were all making their Nedbank debuts the week that they won:
- 2018, Lee Westwood: 6/5/1/1/5/16/28/6
- 2017, Branden Grace: 20/4/3
- 2016, Alex Noren: Debut
- 2015, Marc Leishman: Debut
- 2014, Danny Willett: Debut
- 2013, Thomas Bjorn: Debut
In good weather this event encourages a winning score of around -18 to -20, however trickier conditions over the past 3 years have kept the winning scores down to between -11 to -15. Birdies are there to be made for players who can find the majority of greens in regulation, however bogey avoidance is equally important on a course which isn’t a complete pushover.
Par-5 scoring usually makes up around half of the red numbers that a player posts around these parts, so maximising those opportunities while keeping out of trouble on the rest of the course is the order of the day. A positive record on other tracks at altitude – be that of the longer variety in South Africa or the shorter track at Crans – are a plus, as those players have shown an aptitude to adapt their game to suit the varying yardages.
My selections are as follows: