Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Nedbank Golf Challenge Tips 2022

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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, then expanding to 78 players, before settling now it would seem at the top 60 available in the Race to Dubai, plus a handful of invites, as the players jostle for position ahead of next week’s main event.

After falling off the schedule following Covid, Tommy Fleetwood’s 2019 victory here makes him the defending champion and the Englishman is a best-priced 11/1 at the time of writing to make a belated defence of his title. Jordan Smith, Ryan Fox, Robert Macintyre and Thomas Detry all rate as sub-20/1 chances in this no-cut event.

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Course Overview. The 7,834 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.

nedbank golf challenge tips

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.

Although the Nedbank hasn’t been played since 2019, some of this week’s field also played the two SA Opens held here in the intervening period, and those results have been added to the event and combined stats pages: 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. 2019: Tommy Fleetwood, 14/1; 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 may well soften the course ahead of the tournament itself, with disruption possible from Friday onwards as cells work their way through the area. Outside of that, temperatures should edge towards 80 Fahrenheit, accompanied by light winds of 5-10mph.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the last 7 winners of this event gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:

  • 2019, Tommy Fleetwood (-12). 62.5% fairways (8th), 72.2% greens in regulation (8th), 50% scrambling (40th), 1.79 putts per GIR (32nd)
  • 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 DP World 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 likely to win this event.

As a bonus, we also have stats from the two SA Opens held here at Sun City since the last Nedbank was played:

  • 2021, Daniel van Tonder (-16). 66.1% fairways (14th), 70.8% greens in regulation (10th), 76.2% scrambling (1st), 1.71 putts per GIR (14th)
  • 2020, Christiaan Bezuidenhout (-18). 66.1% fairways (10th), 84.7% greens in regulation (1st), 72.7% scrambling (2nd), 1.70 putts per GIR (5th)

Statistically these two latest results don’t change my previous assertion, as both van Tonder and Bezuidenhout played nicely from tee-to-green, and putted and scrambled well.

Strokes Gained: From a Strokes Gained perspective, we have the 2020 SA Open and the 2019 Nedbank to work with only:

  • 2020: Christiaan Bezuidenhout. T: 28th; A: 1st; T2G: 2nd; ATG: 3rd; P: 7th
  • 2019: Tommy Fleetwood. T: 1st; A: 7th; T2G: 1st; ATG: 21st; P: 21st

All-round games were good for both winners, although SG Approach and SG Tee-to-Green were the most consistent pointers from the two events.

Key: T: SG Off the Tee; A; SG Approach; T2G: SG Tee to Green; ATG: SG Around the Green; P: SG Putting.

Incoming Form: In terms of incoming form, 2019 winner Tommy Fleetwood’s 53rd place finish on his previous start at the WGC HSBC Champions didn’t offer a great deal of encouragement, however he did close with a 67, his best round of the week, which was among the better efforts on that Sunday. Prior to that, a couple of decent enough efforts on the PGA Tour, coupled with 5th at the Dunhill Links and 8th at Crans, was enough to suggest he wasn’t playing at all badly.

2018 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:

  • 2019, Tommy Fleetwood: 23/2/4/43/11/13/8/60/5/20/22/53
  • 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 3 winners, Fleetwood, Westwood and Grace, each had strong enough records here at Sun City to encourage further investigation. Prior to that, the previous 4 winners were all making their Nedbank debuts the week that they won:

  • 2019, Tommy Fleetwood: 14/21/14/10
  • 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 4 renewals 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:

Thriston Lawrence 2pts EW 50/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Ladbrokes

Tommy Fleetwood returns as the belated defending champion following his 2019 success here and heads the betting with all firms, yet the fact that his victory 3 years ago is his most recent win on any Tour gives us enough of a warning given the price on offer.

4th last time out for Southport’s finest at the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup is undoubtedly a standout piece of form, however a lot of the damage was done with the putter that week and the Nedbank is far more about long game prowess in my view. That’s not to say Tommy can’t handle that aspect here – the trophy on his mantelpiece is all the evidence you need for that – but in general his long game performances haven’t been up to his sparkling best for some time now.

If Jordan Smith can couple the putting performance he conjured up at Vilamoura to his dependable long game again any time soon then another win will quickly follow, however reaching those dizzy heights is by no means assured and he, like Fleetwood, is plenty short enough in the market.

Thomas Detry’s recent form on the PGA Tour has been impressive enough to warrant his place towards the very top of the betting market, however that solo win remains elusive. With that in mind I’m pitching my team a little further down the list this week, starting with Thriston Lawrence who’s won twice on Tour in a little under the last 12 months and could complete a hat-trick of titles this week.

89th now in the OWGR with many of the LIV players drifting rapidly down the rankings, a win here this week or next at the Earth Course would do his career prospects a lot of good, however it’s this week’s set-up that presents the better opportunity of the two in my view.

25th for the season for SG Tee to Green, although his results have been a little inconsistent since winning at Crans at the end of August, when he has played well it’s invariably been due to a strong week with his long game. 20th at Le Golf National was fuelled by ranking 8th for the SG Approach and 6th for SG Tee to Green, and 6th on his last start at Valderrama saw him finish 4th for SG Tee to Green also to reinforce the point.

The win at Crans was at the altitude of the Swiss Alps, albeit on a shorter course, and we also have evidence from his 2-round success last December at the Joburg Open that he’s more than comfortably making the necessary adjustments for the thinner air around these parts, as many of the South African players undoubtedly are.

19th here at last year’s SA Open masks a sluggish start and poor finish to the event, with the 25 year-old sitting in 9th place heading into Sunday, and a smattering of lower-level efforts on the Sun City estate over the years also encourages, with 6th at last year’s SunBet Challenge the best effort of the lot. RESULT: T13

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Callum Shinkwin 1.5pts EW 60/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Unibet

Given the promise of rain-softened fairways making an already long course play even longer, siding with a player who can hit the ball long and relatively straight to help take advantage of the thin air around these parts is no bad ploy, and to that end Callum Shinkwin fits the bill very nicely.

4th for the season in terms of Strokes Gained Off the Tee doesn’t lie at this late stage of the year, and the 29 year-old put that prowess to its best use as recently as August when he won his second DP World Tour title, backing up his 2020 Cyprus Open win with success at Celtic Manor by 4 strokes.

12-under was the winning total this time around, balanced with 20-under from his first victory, to suggest that he’s just as capable of taming a trickier test as he is a birdie-fest, and this week’s task at Sun City should fall nicely somewhere between those two totals. That win in Cyprus also came in early November, which is a nice tick in the biorhythms box for those punters who consider such intricacies.

2nd at the Dunhill Links was a nice bounce back to form having taken his foot off the pedal somewhat following his success in Wales, and although 37th last time out at Valderrama doesn’t overly excite, this week’s task should suit much better and despite the mismatch in Andalucia, Callum still ranked 6th for SG Approach into those tiny greens.

29th here at the 2017 Nedbank is the Hertfordshire man’s only competitive form around this Gary Player creation, however that came in a season where he was still reeling from having thrown away the chance of winning the Scottish Open a few months before, and he’d missed 3 of his previous 5 cuts before teeing it up here 5 years ago. Half a decade on and with 2 titles to his name since, I can see Shinkwin seriously contending here this week. RESULT: T64

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Hurly Long 1.5pts EW 55/1 (6EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Should Hurly Long win this week at an attractive mid-price, coming off the back of two consecutive strong performances, and I hadn’t backed him, then I’d be sorely disappointed – so back him here I shall.

Shooting 61 as an amateur on a course as iconic as Pebble Beach is sure to get many an observer of golf scribbling in their notebook, and the amateur milestones came thick and fast for the young German who represented his nation three times in the Eisenhower Trophy and five times in the European Amateur Team Championship.

A win on the Pro Golf Tour in 2019 came at 24-under par from just 3 rounds, including a closing round of 60, to underline his ability and he bettered that in the autumn of 2020 by taking the Italian Challenge Open title on the 2nd tier.

Of course the next stage now is to push on at DP World Tour level and finishes of 3rd at the Ras al Khaimah Classic, 2nd at the Kenya Open (at altitude), 6th at the British Masters, 9th at the Mallorca Open and 5th last time out in Portugal suggests to me that it’s more a case of when, not if, he breaks through.

4th at the Barbasol Championship and 7th at the Barracuda Championship when the DP World and PGA Tours combined in July cannot be ignored either – particularly with the latter also being played at 6,000 feet of elevation – and the 27 year-old demands support here at Sun City, despite this being his course debut.

21st when I backed him at the Steyn City Championship back in March is his best DP World Tour result on South African soil, however with his long game looking sharp last time out at Vilamoura, hitting over 83% of greens and ranking 10th for SG Tee to Green, I can see him taking to this course very nicely. RESULT: T52

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Oliver Bekker 1pt EW 70/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Unibet

Finally I’ll close with 7-time Sunshine Tour winner Oliver Bekker, a man who knows how to perform on home soil as he continues to ply his trade on the DP World Tour after the briefest of forays to LIV for their inaugural event at Centurion back in June.

6th at that event in St Albans clearly wasn’t enough to keep him in the fold, however like Adrian Otaegui who won at Valderrama last month, the experience appears to have done him no harm having subsequently finished 9th at the Italian Open and been handy throughout the Dunhill Links up until the final day in relatively recent times. 3rd the week before last on the Sunshine Tour’s Vodacom Origins Final event has kept any rust away ahead of this week, and we know that when everything aligns the 37 year-old can produce strong enough long-game numbers to suggest that he can contend this week.

A sparkling start to 2022 saw the Pretoria man notch 8 top-11 finishes in the space of just 10 starts as he looked to win his first DP World Tour title, included in which was a 2nd place finish at the Catalunya Championship, 3rd at the Steyn City Championship at altitude, and 4th at the Soudal Open. Although not as impressive since, recent outings would suggest he’s not a million miles away from contending form once again at this level.

And then we have his course form hidden just below the surface which can’t be ignored. Sun City’s two courses have hosted many events over the years, either here at the Gary Player course or the nearby Lost City course, with some events mixing rounds from each, and Bekker’s form on the estate in general is excellent. A win at the 2016 Sun City Challenge is his best result on paper, with 5 more top-14 finishes to add to that in various events over the years, plus there’s 20th and 2nd at the two SA Opens held here since the last Nedbank took place, in what would have been a slightly better quality of field than his Sunshine Tour efforts. RESULT: T36

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 15:40GMT 7.11.22 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.