Ernie Els, on his 50th birthday, received an invitation to play in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Photo: Tyrone Winfield

JOHANNESBURG – Despite turning 50 on Thursday, South African golf legend Ernie Els still received an invitation to the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player, which takes place from November 14-17.

It is the seventh Rolex Series event on the 2019 Race to Dubai, and Els will bring added star power to an impressive field.

The four-time Major winner has enjoyed great success at the Gary Player Country Club, claiming the title three times – in 1999, 2000 and 2002.

He became the third three-time winner of the prestigious event – after David Frost and Nick Price – while Lee Westwood became the fourth player to join that prestigious list last year by wrapping up a hat-trick of victories for his maiden Rolex Series triumph.

Els’ most recent Nedbank Golf Challenge victory came just a few months after he triumphed in The Open for the first time, adding to the two US Open titles he had claimed in 1994 and 1997.

The former world number one famously went on to lift the Claret Jug a second time in 2012, making it 71 career victories worldwide, including two World Golf Championships and a record seven World Matchplay titles.

Els will also tee up for the 40th anniversary of Sun City and Gary Player Country Club as the current captain of the Presidents Cup International Team, which will take on Tiger Woods’ United States side in Melbourne in December.

Els said: “It’s always a pleasure to play in South Africa and particularly at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. I’ve got some great memories of the tournament – particularly from my three wins – and I’m pleased that I’ve been able to support the event as it has continued to grow over the years.

“I’m looking forward to a busy end of the year, with the Presidents Cup coming up in December. I’m pleased that I can include some competitive golf on home soil in that schedule, and I’m sure it will be a memorable week, especially with the 40th anniversary celebrations.”

Gary Player, tournament host, said: “I am thrilled that golf fans will once again be treated to seeing one of the finest golfers in history competing at the Gary Player Country Club for this Rolex Series event.

“Ernie’s success in the Nedbank Golf Challenge is perhaps outshone only by his constant and loyal support of this tournament over the years, which has been invaluable. I look forward to shaking the big man’s hand on the first tee once again.”

Mike Brown, Chief Executive of the Nedbank Group, said: “Ernie Els is the most successful golfer in the history of the Nedbank Golf Challenge and, for many local golf fans, he has been the face of South African golf and of ‘Africa’s Major’.

“Ernie is a global giant of the game who has always represented South Africa with pride, and we are proud to welcome him back as he is always a firm favourite with the local crowds.”

Anthony Leeming, Chief Executive of Sun International, said: “Ernie’s status as a truly global golfer for so many years, and as a three-time champion, has played a major part in the growth of the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the greater awareness of Sun City as a leading tourist destination. We are delighted to have him in this year’s field as one of the greatest golfers in history and a true icon of South African golf.”

Els joins a field that includes fellow a South African Major winner, Louis Oosthuizen, and another countryman in Branden Grace, who claimed his first Rolex Series title at the Nedbank Golf Challenge two years ago.

The field also includes European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington and English Ryder Cup stars Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood, who returns to defend his title.

Westwood’s emotional three-stroke victory over Sergio Garcia in 2018 saw him capture his first Rolex Series title and become the first European golfer to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge three times, following his victories in 2010 and 2011. 

African News Agency (ANA)