JOHANNESBURG – You know it’s good when you’re able to attract some of the biggest names to have played the game, and this year is no different.
Major winners, world number ones, fan favourites... they’ll all be at Sun City chasing big prize money, rankings points, and bragging rights this week in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club.
It’s going to be good, like always.
Johnny Miller was the first to bag the famous trophy in 1981, and he’s been followed by the who’s who of the game: Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and more recently, Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson.
Whose name will be added to the winner’s list on Sunday?
That is the big question ahead of this year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, hosted by Gary Player. The tournament may not be in the festive first week of December anymore, but that doesn’t mean it has lost any of its appeal.
In fact, being brought forward by nearly a month has allowed the tournament to be officially recognised as a European Tour event, and it now also stands as one of the eight elite tournaments in the Rolex Series in the Race to Dubai.
There is plenty of prestige attached to the event, and the players who’ll tee it up from Thursday are testament to this.
European Tour heavyweights Tommy Fleetwood, defending champion Alex Noren, in-form Tyrrell Hatton, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Ross Fisher and Kaymer, and former champion Thomas Bjorn will all be chasing victory later this week.
South African golfing fans will be desperate to see one of their own triumph after going 10 years without a local winner.
Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman was the last South African to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge, in 2007, after edging Justin Rose by a stroke.
The closest any other South African has come to bagging the title was in 2012 when Charl Schwartzel finished two shots off the pace set by Kaymer, while Tim Clark was also a runner-up in 2010, but he finished a whopping eight strokes off runaway winner Westwood.
Schwartzel will be one of the favourites among the locals this week, even if the former Masters champion hasn’t had the best of seasons on the PGA Tour.
Louis Oosthuizen will also enjoy large galleries following him around the challenging Sun City terrain and so, too, can Branden Grace expect plenty of support.
The course is again expected to test every aspect of the golfers’ skills, and is likely to be in pristine condition.
“I’m happy with where the course is at the moment,” said Sun City golf director Ken Payet a week ago. “We had some early rains which helped the rough, but we don’t want the course too tough... but it must be challenging for the players.”
He added all that was left to do was to fine-tune the course.
“Now we are just focusing on attention to detail. It’s an opportunity to repair pitch marks and divots, and to spend time making sure the sand in the bunkers is consistent, those little things.”
All that’s left to do is for the players to knock it on the fairway, find the green and make the putt.