.The format of this event has changed many times since first brought to the world. It has evolved from a 30-man event in 2013, when it was first co-sanctioned, to now a big part of the calendar so people outside the bracket for the race to Dubai can jostle for position and find their way to the main event next week.
It is now an excellent way for people to find some form going into next week, so expect surprises along the way. However, this event has not been seen for a few years because of covid, so defending champion here is the main man Tommy Fleetwood from 2019. What a delight to take us back and remember a world pre covid world ey! Also, a significant factor this week changes things slightly; this is a NO-CUT event.
The venue is a massive 7,834-yard course in Sun City, South Africa’s number 1 holiday resort, and is aptly named Gary Player Country Club. The fairways are tight, and the greens, as I mentioned in my Houston Open Preview, are fast and hard and will test many players who struggle with the putter in hand. The difference here, though, to the PGA Tour this week is that the greens are bentgrass, and there are no tight lies around the greens like in Houston. Accuracy here is going to be more vital.
Nedbank Challenge – What I’m looking for in a winner here…
As you can tell from my course preview above, the distance here is pivitol. You can say that being in altitude means it levels it out a bit, yes, it does, but looking at previous winners here, they’re all hitting it long off the tee, maybe, bar the exception of Alex Noren, who seemed to hit every green in regulation anyway. I also like, of course, accuracy, so this tells me I’m looking for strokes gained Off the Tee and some approach stats with my model for this challenge this week. I also have to factor in some scrambling and strong players who can get themselves out of trouble. There are plenty of trees here and lots of thick rough, so the course isn’t taking any prisoners if you are not in the right places.
Form isn’t a big issue here; as mentioned above, you can spell a few surprises, and I’m happy to plunge on someone in the field who just fits this type of course rather than someone who is playing well. I take this mainly from the stats of previous winners coming into this tournament; no one was lighting it up before coming here.
I do expect plenty of birdies here; however, the weather might cause a few problems as there are suggestions of some thunderstorms coming, but I take that, that maybe it’ll make the course softer and, therefore, easier rather than winds picking up and causing conditions as we might get in the UK. Birdies are also really getable in the four par 5’s, which look like great opportunities for the longer hitters; they are tasty.
Previous winners at this event; 2019: Tommy Fleetwood, 14/1; 2018: Lee Westwood, 40/1; 2017: Branden Grace, 16/1; 2016: Alex Noren, 20/1; 2015: Marc Leishman, 66/1; 2014: Danny Willett, 25/1; 2013: Thomas Bjorn, 30/1.
My model for this, these are the trends I am looking for;
- SG Off the Tee
- Proximity to the hole
- Driving Distance
- Par 5 Performance
- Greens in Regulation
Here is how that model looks for Top 25 along with their average betting odds;
- Thriston Lawrence 45/1
- Jordan L Smith 14/1
- Ryan Fox 16/1
- Antoine Rozner 28/1
- Eddie Pepperell 25/1
- Fabrizio Zanotti 50/1
- Edoardo Molinari 66/1
- Tommy Fleetwood 11/1
- Victor Perez 40/1
- Richie Ramsay 60/1
- Marcel Schneider 45/1
- Hurly Long 50/1
- Ewen Ferguson 70/1
- Mikko Korhonen N/A
- Matthew Southgate 90/1
- Thomas Detry 14/1
- Adrian Meronk 35/1
- Callum Shinkwin 50/1
- Paul Waring 66/1
- Richard Mansell 35/1
- Alexander Bjork N/A
- Justin Walters 125/1
- Lukas Nemecz N/A
- Connor Syme 55/1
- Oliver Bekker 55/1
Straight into the tips…..
Antoine Rozner – 28/1 (3pt Win)
I feel like the french are producing some really great up and coming golfers, not that Antoine is new, he turned pro in 2017 but his stats are really turning a corner this year, racking up Top 20 finishes now at an incredible rate. I really fancy Rozner this week, his stats Off the Tee are really strong. He’s been in the top 10% for Driving Accuracy and Distance this year on many occasions and that gives me enough to really think he will suit this golf course and that is not even the strongest area of his game. He is gaining strokes with his approach into greens every single week and in with these softer conditions expected earlier in the week, he really can capitalise and get a good way ahead of the field.
Thriston Lawrence – 45/1 (0.5pts ew)
There is a lot to say about Thriston Lawrence, his game is definitely on the up and I had tipped him earlier in the year at the European masters when he won for the second time in the space of a year, I like him again this week.
His other win came last December at the Joburg Open where conditions will be very similar here, we know he can cope with the thinner air and tighter fairways and greens.
One thing that really swayed it for me with this pick in relation to the course; was the times he has not done well, or missed the cut this season, he was still gaining strokes Off the Tee, which is going to be the key for me here and there is no cut for him to miss!
Hurly Long – 50/1 (0.5pts ew)
I’ve been lucky enough to watch Hurly Long up close and live at the Belfry this year at the Masters and I loved what I saw. Long hits the ball long and straight and I expect to see him on the PGA tour next year much more, crushing some fairways.
He is really peaking with his game right now with two top 10’s in his last two visits, and I’m happy to trust Hurly can get us over the line. I have absolutely no worries about him putting the ball close to the pin and holing some putts, so if we continue to get this strong game off the tee then he could come very close here. Another strong factor is I believe he can reach all the Par 5’s in 2 and as I said in this preview, that is going to go a long way to bumping you up the leaderboard.