Alex Noren (right) receives the Nedbank Golf Challenge trophy from Gary Player in 2016. Photo: Chris Kotze/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - Defending champion Alex Noren still can’t quite believe he won the Nedbank Golf Challenge a year ago at Sun City.

The Swede is back this week to try defend his title but he can expect some stiff competition from European Tour and Race to Dubai top 10 players Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Ross Fisher, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Francesco Molinari, and a host of others including South Africa’s top three men in Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace, who’re all looking to bag the title for the first time.

Also, young guns such as Dylan Frittelli and Haydn Porteous are in good form and so, too, the likes of Thailand’s Kiredech Aphibarnrat, England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick and Ireland’s Paul Dunne.

Noren returned to Sun City on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's first round and couldn’t help but talk about what went down a year ago.

“It’s such a good feeling being here and thinking about the last time here,” said Noren. “All those memories come back ... it seems not so long ago.

“I couldn’t actually believe that I won because I was a lot of shots back before that last round. Everything happened so quickly and before I knew it I was off to the next tournament. Coming back here now it’s almost like it’s sinking in a bit more.”

Asked what was going through his mind when he teed it up on the first tee six shot back a year ago, Noren said: “I lost my lead on the third day, didn’t play well ... I really just wanted to finish well, get a decent round behind me.

“I wasn’t thinking about winning at all. I wanted to get something going for Dubai (the final tournament in the Rolex Series the following week) and then all of a sudden, with the eagle on (the par-five) 10, the big lob shot on 11 ... I was like, I can do this.”

Having conquered the course a year ago, the Swede will certainly be among the favourites this week. He knows he will have to be on top of his game in all four rounds to get the job done again.

“The wind was quite strong at times last year and the greens are quite small, with many of the pins out on the edges ... so you can’t be too aggressive, otherwise the course will bite you. Overall, you have to play pretty good golf to shoot a low number, but you need to know your way around the course as well,” he added.

First out from the first tee at 9am on Thursday will be Ian Poulter, Graeme Storm and young South African hot shot Frittelli. Noren will be off at 11.01am alongside Cabrera Bello and Fleetwood, while Schwartzel will be joined by Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood at 10.17am, and Oosthuizen will be off at 10.50am alongside Fisher and Molinari.

The Star

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