Sun City – Louis Oosthuizen is the home favourite to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge teeing off at Sun City on Thursday, and the 30-year-old South African has identified defending champion Lee Westwood as his biggest obstacle to victory.
Oosthuizen is considered most likely to break the five-year drought in terms of a South African winner, but the world number seven is returning to the Gary Player Country Club after a year's absence, having finished last in his only previous appearance in 2010.
“I forgot how narrow the fairways are and how thick the kikuyu is,” Oosthuizen said on Wednesday.
“The rough is really thick all around the fairways and greens, because of the recent rain, so you have to drive straight or you're going to struggle.
“The greens are running pure but the rain has made them a bit slow and adapting to the pace of the greens is going to be one of tomorrow's keys.
“So you have to think that Lee Westwood's name is going to be right up there. He has an amazing record around this course, he’s a world-class player and one of the best ball-strikers in the game.
“He drives the ball so straight and he has great iron play, so he gives himself so many opportunities for birdies. He's able to take driver on a lot of holes where the rest of us take a three wood. That's how confident he is with that club.”
Westwood claimed his second successive NGC title last year after weathering a great final-round charge by Sweden's Robert Karlsson, but the Englishman could be in for an even stiffer challenge this year with both Oosthuizen and Justin Rose coming into the tournament in hot form.
Oosthuizen finished third on the European Tour order of merit and is coming off five successive top-10 finishes.
“It's been frustrating because I feel I've been playing better than my finishes,” he said.
“I guess I'm satisfied with the year overall, but disappointed that I lost twice in playoffs.
“I always say I want three wins a season, and I've got two, so to win here this weekend would end the year on a high.
“Plus, growing up, this and the SA Open were the two tournaments you really wanted your name on the trophy. You always remember watching the tournament on TV as a kid and it's a great event.”
Rose, born in South Africa but based in England since he was five, will also be especially motivated to win, having finished second to Trevor Immelman by just one stroke in 2007.
Charl Schwartzel is another South African favourite, but the 28-year-old seemed to talk down his chances on Wednesday after a year that was badly disrupted by a torn rib muscle in June.
“It's never nice not playing well and you always go into the tournament with the goal of winning,” Schwartzel said.
“But it's been a long process coming back from that injury and I’m not expecting anything this week. If I have a good week and play the way I know I can, then I'm easily capable of winning.” – Sapa