Tyrrell Hatton made European Tour history last week with his win at the Turkish Airlines Open. He was the first winner of a floodlit playoff in Antalya but of more importance to him is the jump he made up the Race to Dubai Rankings. The Englishman can even afford to take the week off and skip the Nedbank Golf Challenge before heading to Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship.
Hatton is not the only big name missing this week. The quality of the field is a little disappointing for the penultimate playoff event on the European Tour but we still have more than enough quality to entertain at Gary Player Country Club. Lee Westwood is right up there with the highest calibre players in the field and the veteran Englishman has a real chance of making a successful defence of the title he won 12 months ago.
Gary Player Country Club has been hosting a selection of the world’s best golfers for years now. It is the sole venue for the Nedbank Golf Challenge which used to be a small field event for a select group of invitees. It was no surprise that the course has continued to impress an increasing number of golfers as the field grew to its current size of 78.
Although Sun City is at altitude which allows golf balls to fly further through the air, a certain amount of power is vital around the 7,831 yard, par 72 layout. Recent winners have utilised their power off the tee and taken advantage of the par fives en route to victory and little will change in that regard for the 2019 renewal. The tricky rough that frames relatively narrow fairways ensures it’s not all about pure power off the tee though, whilst the most confident putters will have an advantage given the difficulty posed by the fast greens.
|Gary Player Country Club||Sun City, South Africa||7,831 Yards||$7,000,000|
Lee Westwood was very emotional at the conclusion of last year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge. His win marked the culmination of a lot of work to ensure he remains competitive at the top level and it was, in many ways, a fairly typical victory at this event. Westwood’s reasonably comfortable winning margin of three shots is less than all but one of the other five most recent winners. He also used his excellent driving and some quality work on the greens to full effect. The presence of Branden Grace, Marc Leishman, Alex Noren and Danny Willett on the list below also shows that high class ball strikers can rise to the top of the leaderboard at Gary Player Country Club.
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2018||Lee Westwood||-15||3 Strokes|
|2017||Branden Grace||-11||1 Stroke|
|2016||Alex Noren||-14||6 Strokes|
|2015||Marc Leishman||-19||6 Strokes|
|2014||Danny Willett||-18||4 Strokes|
Analysis: Power to Underline the Winner’s Game
There are some fairly large downpours in this week’s forecast in Sun City. Thankfully, the weekend is set to bring ideal golfing conditions but Thursday could be very wet. The earlier rain will also have an impact on the tournament as softer conditions will limit the amount the ball rolls, handing an advantage to the longer hitters.
Gary Player Country Club is far from a one dimensional golf course. This week’s winner will need to follow strong drives with excellent approach shots before ensuring they don’t get put off by the lightning fast greens. As recent renewals have shown, players who get it right can pull away from the field by quite a distance. Those who show early promise should be considered for anybody getting involved with each way betting.
Westwood at the Double?
The tears that fell down Lee Westwood’s face as he embraced his caddie and fiance Helen showed just what victory in last year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge meant to him. As with any golfer of his age, Westwood was starting to think about his move to the Senior Tour and had rejigged his schedule to include more rest. The competitive fire still very much burned inside him though and the work he did on his game left him convinced that he was still good enough to win. There’s nothing quite like having that confidence confirmed though so it was a very special moment in a career full of highs.
Winning in Sun City was particularly special for Westwood given how much he loves this venue. It was his third Nedbank Golf Challenge win (although his first since it became a European Tour event) so there is no doubt his game is very well suited to Gary Player Country Club.
Westwood is one of the best drivers in European Tour history, hugely accurate with decent power. At 46 he still gets it out there and will regularly drive the ball over 300 yards this week. As he ranks fourth on the European Tour for strokes gained approaching the green, Westwood should be able to maximise his quality off the tee. His 10th place finish in Turkey last week shows that his game is sharp so he could well claim Nedbank Golf Challenge win number four.
Aphibarnrat a Tempting Outside Bet
Kiradech Aphibarnrat is used to competing in this sort of important event. He’s contended in the season-ending events on both the European and Asian Tours whilst he’s added PGA Tour experience in more recent years. The Thai star has a very busy schedule but always makes room for the trip to Sun City.
Previous experience at the Nedbank Golf Challenge has been an important indicator of success over the years. That makes Aphibarnrat’s fifth place finish in this event on debut in 2014 all the more impressive. The recent upturn in his form will give Aphibarnrat confidence for his return to South Africa where he may just land an each way payout at 70/1 with Coral.
Final Verdict: Lee Westwood to Win
Nobody in the field will be looking forward to a return to Sun City quite as much as Lee Westwood. He has had some wonderful times at Gary Player Country Club and will expect himself to contend once again this year. The odds of 33/1 that bet365 offer certainly represent good value about his chances of a successful title defence.
About the Nedbank Golf Challenge
The Nedbank Golf Challenge has been an official European Tour event since 2013. The competition – which was known as the Million Dollar Challenge from 1981 to 1999 – takes place at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, South Africa, usually late in the year.
In 2016, the event replaced the BMW Masters as part of the European Tour Final Series before becoming a Rolex Series event in 2017 and 2018. Previously, it was part of South Africa’s Sunshine Tour.
Several big names have won this tournament over the years. The likes of Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie – that is, four of the top five players on the all-time list of European Tour winners – have all triumphed in his South African event. The tournament has also had its fair share of home winners, including Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel.
Miller Wins the First
The first Million Dollar Challenge took place from 31st December 1981 to 3rd January 1982. Only five players were involved, with Seve Ballesteros, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Gary Player making up the field of five.
After tying on a score of 277, Miller and Ballesteros battled it out in a playoff. The American edged past the Spaniard at the ninth hole of the sudden-death playoff to become the first champion. As a result, Miller won half of the $1m prize money, a very tidy sum back in those days.
South Africa’s Excellent Record
The South African supporters have seen several home players lift the trophy at Gary Player Country Club over the years. The first of those was Fulton Allem in 1988, with David Frost winning three of the next four.
It was then Ernie Els’ time to shine, as the Johannesburg man picked up victories in 1999, 2000 and 2002. Since then, home favourites Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman and Branden Grace have all won the Nedbank Golf Challenge on South African grass. Els in particular shone in this event, managing 20 under par or better in each of his three victories. His best showing came in his first win in 1999 when he shot a quite astounding score of 263 to finish 25 under par and five shots ahead of second placed Colin Montgomerie.
South African Winners of the Nedbank Challenge – 1981 to 2019
|1989, 1990, 1992||David Frost|
|1999, 2000, 2002||Ernie Els|
Woosnam Becomes First British Winner
In December 1987, Ian Woosnam became the first British winner of this tournament. The Welshman also won the Jersey Open, Madrid Open, Scottish Open and the Trophee Lancome in a stunning year on the European Tour in 1987.
Woosnam had a fine tournament on South African soil, going on to beat Nick Faldo by an impressive four strokes. Faldo was the next British winner, coming out on top seven years later in 1994. Those two and Colin Montgomerie were the only winners from Britain until Lee Westwood prevailed in 2010.
British Winners of the Nedbank Challenge – 1981 to 2019
|Year||Player||Score (To Par)|
|2019||Tommy Fleetwood (England)||276 (-12)|
|2018||Lee Westwood (England)||273 (-15)|
|2014||Danny Willett (England)||270 (-18)|
|2011||Lee Westwood (England)||273 (-15)|
|2010||Lee Westwood (England)||271 (-17)|
|1996||Colin Montgomerie (Scotland)||274 (-14)|
|1994||Nick Faldo (England)||272 (-16)|
|1987||Ian Woosnam (Wales)||274 (-14)|
Westwood Makes it Three in 2018
David Frost became the first player to win this tournament on three occasions when the South African won on home soil in December 1992, following on from wins in 1989 and 1990. Zimbabwean Nick Price was the second man to win three (with victories in 1993, 1997 and 1998), quickly followed by Ernie Els.
Lee Westwood joined Frost, Price and Els on three victories when he beat Sergio Garcia by three strokes in 2018. Prior to that, the Nottinghamshire-born man had claimed back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, Westwood became the first English winner of this tournament since Nick Faldo landed the victory in 1994.
Westwood’s first victory was a memorable one, as he finished eight strokes ahead of Tim Clark in Sun City. A year later in 2011, Lee beat Swede Robert Karlsson by two strokes. He was certainly peaking at around that time and came close to turning his fine form into a major title. Alas, it wasn’t to be and he could only manage 2nd in the Open Championship and tied second in the Masters in 2010 and tied third in the US Open in 2011.
Margin of Victory Varies
If the 20 events that took place between (and including) the years of 2000 and 2019 there have been six winners decided by a playoff, two by a margin of just a single stroke, and four by two strokes. At the other end of the spectrum, six tournaments have seen a victory by a margin of between six and nine shots.
The greatest winning margin in the history of the tournament occurred in 1993 when Nick Price earned his first win in the tournament with an impressive score of 264; at 24 under he was a full 12 shots ahead of countryman Mark McNulty who finished second.