The penultimate event on the 2019 European Tour schedule takes us to South Africa for the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City.
A 64-man field lines up at the Gary Player-designed layout, with the top 50 on the Race to Dubai by close of play on Sunday punching their tickets to the season-ending DP World Tour Championship next week.
It’s a huge one for gamers playing the season-long European Tour fantasy offering as there’s an increase in RTD points from 7,500 to 10,000 this week. To give it context, that’s more than the 9,000 played for at World Golf Championship events.
Gary Player CC can play 7,827 yards from the tips so it looks like a monster. However, the ball flies far and a look at winning scores shows that there are still plenty of birdies to be found. However, don’t expect a six-man play-off on 20-under as we got in Turkey last week. It’s South Africa so the fairways and rough are kikuya. The tree-lined landing areas on the parkland course are narrow, while the bentgrass greens are small and well guarded.
Last five winners and stats
2018 -15 Lee Westwood (DD: 26, DA: 36, GIR: 4, Scr: 14, PA: 1, AA: 1)
2017 -11 Branden Grace (DD: 63, DA: 54, GIR: 31, Scr: 12, PA: 4, AA: 31)
2016 -14 Alex Noren (DD: 14, DA: 39, GIR: 1, Scr: 13, PA: 4, AA: 4)
2015 -19 Marc Leishman (DD: 6, DA: 12, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 8, AA: 1)
2014 -18 Danny Willett (DD: N/A, DA: 23, GIR: 3, Scr: 1, PA: 3, AA: 3)
Notes: Despite the fairways being described as narrow, finding them relentlessly hasn’t been a pre-requisite. All of the last five winners had strong putting stats while four of those were ranked in the top four for greens in regulation.
As for older course form, this event was played with an elite line-up of just 12 up until 2013/14 when the field was increased to 30. The last three years we’ve seen it rise again to 72/73. If a player finished 11th in 2012, that was actually a poor week as they beat just one other rival!
Temperatures are in the 80s, rising to 88 on Sunday, but this could be a frustrating stop-start week. T-storms are a threat on Thursday morning and Friday afternoon and there could be rain on Saturday too. Sunday looks clear at least although it could get a little gusty.
The Leading Contenders
Still to win this event although he’s getting closer – 11th 2015, 9th 2016, 8th 2017 and 3rd last year. The local man has played just twice since August but on his latest start, the rust was definitely flying off as he took third place at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, ranking 3rd for GIR and 10th for Putting Average.
Currently 10th in the Race to Dubai although he can still win it (28/1 to do so) with two huge weeks. Is he playing well enough though? In his last five starts, a T5 at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is his only finish better than T20 and he was never at the races when T53 at the HSBC. That said, his GIR numbers remain impressive. Fleetwood’s course form is solid (T10, two T14s and T21) rather than spectacular.
In theory, this is a very Stenson-friendly course and his results there back it up big time. The Swede has a win, three second places and nothing worse than T8 on his last visit in 2016 although bear in mind that some of those big results were in the 12-man field days. Perhaps of more relevance is his insistence that he’s not happy with his game. Those words seem justified when he missed the cut in Houston although T20 (four x 70s) in the HSBC was decent enough.
The Englishman is still seeking a first win of the campaign to continue his record of having posted a victory in every European Tour season since 2015. He’s been mighty close, finishing runner-up three times since the end of June, and adding T7 (8th for GIR) at the WGC in China on his latest start. Course form? 16-20-8-27 since 2015.
One of the new wave of South African talent, EVR made his big breakthrough win by landing August’s Scandinavian Invitation and almost added a second trophy at last week’s Turkish Airlines Open, ending as one of the five losers in the six-man play-off. Eight top 20s in his last 11 worldwide starts and third for GIR in Turkey, the only negative is his T60 on debut here last year. However, he did once take part in a local Sunshine Tour event at Sun City in 2016 and took T9. At 8th, he’s the highest ranked South African on the Race to Dubai.
Currently 20th on the Race to Dubai, RCB was runner-up in his home Spanish Open last month although just a little underwhelming on the Asia Swing with T26 in the CJ CUP, T30 at the ZOZO and T57 at the HSBC. His iron play lacked sharpness in those events although he’s had a week off to tinker. Not great course form, with T56 and T42 and no rounds in the 60s.
Like a couple of others on the European Tour this season, he’s been threatening to win on numerous occasions but hasn’t quite got over the line. Still, his outstanding rookie campaign shows no sign of quieting down and the Scot’s last three starts have produced a fourth in Italy, T17 at the WGC-HSBC and T7 in Turkey last week where he again put himself in the trophy hunt on Sunday. Course debut although he posted a pair of top 15s in two starts in South Africa last December.
An in-form Wallace would have been in the first three in the betting but he’s gone off the boil in recent starts. Being hard on yourself isn’t always bad – Tyrrell Hatton a prime example when winning in Turkey last week – but it’s easy to think that Wallace is getting in his own way after T60 in the HSBC and T50 in Turkey. On the plus side, he followed his T34 in 2017 here with a top five 12 months ago and he’s made the top 20 in his last three starts in South Africa.
The Swede said he was playing some of his best golf of the season in Turkey last week but, after sitting second at halfway, his challenge fizzled out (T28). It followed a pair of top 20s (Bermuda, Open de France) so something (his irons rather than his putting say the stats) is starting to click. This looks a good place for his game to keep trending upwards as he won the title in 2017 thanks to a closing 63 and was T12 when defending last year.
The Austrian has a healthy lead atop the Race to Dubai and can extend it here with Nos. 2 and 3 (Jon Rahm and Shane Lowry) absent. Wiesberger has three wins since the end of May, the latest in last month’s Italian Open, although he’s gone a little flat since with T49 at both the HSBC and Turkish Airlines Open. Two starts at Sun City have yielded T25 in 2015 and T19 in 2017.