The Nedbank Golf Challenge returns this season with a hugely added significance that has seen the event elevated from the status of colourful diversion to potentially monumental significance. For the first time ever the tournament will form part of the season-ending Euro Tour Final series. It is the last chance for players to desperately jockey for position for the Euro Tour Finals. Danny Willet has surrendered what was a sizable lead around June in what has been an abysmal run of form. Henrik Stenson has been the chief beneficiary, and both players will be headlining this year’s start studded format.
One of the most startling developments this season has been the expansion of the tournament to around 78 players. This will clearly change the dynamic of the tournament, making it feel less like a glorified exhibition and more like its long-time moniker: Africa’s Major. The challenging7,831-yardd course is actually the third longest in European Tour history. The fairways will be hard this time of year, and it’s critical that players are able to find decent positions off the tee. There is some punishing rough around this course while bunkers and water traps lurk surreptitiously around the course.
Johnny Miller won the inaugural event in 1981 and there have been many illustrious champions here. Stenson himself was champion eight years ago, and enjoys an excellent record at this course. Mark Leishman romped home to a convincing six shot victory last season, a margin that may be hard to replicate with an expanded field. The Aussie journeyman will not be back to defend his title as players jostle for position for that final Race to Dubai.
Nedbank Golf Challenge | Thursday 10 November - Sunday 13 November | Gary Player Country Club
2015: Mark Leishman (-19) | 2014: Danny Willett (-18) | 2013: Thomas Bjorn (-20)
2012: Martin Kaymer (-8) | 2011: Lee Westwood (-15)
To Win Outright:
Henrik Stenson 4/1 | Ross Fisher 18/1 | Charl Schwartzel (18-1), Martin Kaymer (20-1), Alex Noren (20-1)
Chris Wood To Win (40/1) & To Place (88/10)
Chris Wood could be about to cap off a wonderful breakthrough year on the European Tour. His victory at the BMW PGA Championship really catapulted him to the forefront of the golfing world. He was also extremely undervalued at Hazeltine, where he managed to secure an excellent point alongside Justin Rose and forced Dustin Johnson to pull out all the stops en route to his singles victory. He also finished in third place last year here despite not driving very accurately. Wood usually thrives off the accuracy of his driver and will be in contention this week.
Andrew Johnston- To Win (66/1) & To Place (14/1)
Making his first appearance at the event, the lovable rouge that is Johnston is sure to be a huge it with the fans. And there is something to be said about that when playing in a country generally starved of major golfing events. Johnston picked up that excellent win at Valderamma whilst having top ten finishes at the Open, the BMW PGA and the Qatar Masters. He has looked a little off the pace in recent weeks but rallied well to finish inside the top twenty-five in Turkey last week. I just think that there is something about the spectacle of this event that ‘Beef’ will warm to, especially at 66-1.
Rafa-Cabrera Bello To Win (25/1) & To Place (5/1)
Similarly, to Chris Wood, Cabrera-Bello has enjoyed a slightly frustrating end to the season, not nearly cashing in on the talent at his disposal. With only two European titles in ten years on tour, the Spaniard will feel that he hasn’t managed to build on his potential. He has experienced a breakthrough year however and perhaps only Stenson can match him in pure ball striking from tee to green. He should also favour the hot forecast, having grown up in the Canary Islands. His recent Ryder Cup experience, which saw him beat Jimmy Walker 3&2, will stand him in good stead as he realizes he can beat the best.
The Man to Beat
Henrik Stenson To Win (4/1) & To Place (8/10)
Yes, there is almost no value in backing the Swede, but I just can’t see past him winning this golf tournament. He won here eight years ago and has been close since- finishing in a distant tie for second last year. He was also runner-up in 2013. His last two starts have seen him finish second at both the Olympics and the WGC HSBC. His prodigious length and accuracy will hold the key to a possible victory and huge step forward to securing the Race to Dubai.