SUN CITY – He hasn’t been to the Nedbank Golf Challenge since 2009, so Rory McIlroy wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the Gary Player Country Club course ahead of his return to the tournament that starts today.
“Honestly, I didn’t really remember much about the course or the place when we got in on Sunday night,” McIlroy said. “I played a few holes on Monday. I couldn’t remember one hole. But then I went and just played the pro-am and on the back nine I remembered a few of the holes. Obviously the finish over the water is quite memorable.”
In 2009, McIlroy lasted one round before food poisoning laid him low and he withdrew, but he has since renewed his acquaintance with South Africa and it’s one which pleases him as much as it pleases the SA fans who will flock to see him in action this week.
“It’s nice to be back in Sun City,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t have a chance to really contend the last time I was here, and the tournament’s changed a lot since then. I think that time, it was just a handful of guys and obviously now it’s 72. It’s much more competitive and it’s got a big place on the schedule.”
Different sort of marshals at Sun City 🦓 pic.twitter.com/WmSeaVsq8m— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 8, 2018
McIlroy played the SA Open on his return to SA in 2017 and drew thousands to Glendower Golf Club to watch him lose to Graeme Storm in a tense playoff.
“I have very fond memories of the SA Open at Glendower,” he said. “It was one of the coolest weeks I’ve had on tour with just the scenes and the playoff, and the crowds coming up 18. I came very close to win that week and didn’t quite get it done. It would be nice to get a win down here finally.”
While McIlroy is the highest-ranked player in the field, he will be up against a determined title defence from, Branden Grace, as well as a phalanx of local challengers, all of whom cherish boyhood memories of wanting to win “Africa’s Major”.
Among the other challengers is 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia, fresh off a win in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters on 21 October.
But McIlroy is happy with his game ahead of the challenge.
“I’ve played good golf. I’ve played consistent golf,” McIlroy said. “I probably let a few slip through my fingers in terms of tournaments won. There’s a few I feel like I could have challenged a bit more for.
“Overall it’s been a consistent year. I’ve improved my ranking since the start of the year. I have a chance to get back into the top five this week and next week, and it would be a solid year.”
Now that McIlroy has worked out that he remembers quite a bit about the course, he does have a plan for this week.
“You have four par-fives, so you try to take advantage of those, and it’s actually a golf course where you have to play quite conservatively after that,” McIlroy said.
“You can’t be too aggressive. You’ve just got to get your ball on the fairway, and if that means leaving yourself longer second shots in, that’s what you have to do. It’s all about getting your ball in play this week.”