This week, the DP World Tour reaches its penultimate event of the 2022/23 season, as we head to Gary Player Country Club at Sun City in South Africa, for the 41st edition of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The tournament provides a final chance for players to position themselves well inside that top 50 on the Race to Dubai, that will get them into the season-ending DP World Tour Championship next week.
The Nedbank Golf Challenge started off life as the Nedbank Million Dollar Challenge in 1981 - an unofficial and exclusive five-man stroke play event. It became a Sunshine Tour event in 2006 – by which time the field size had risen to twelve – and earned a further upgrade in status in 2013, when it became a part of the DP World Tour schedule; at which point the fields increased to thirty participants and have been sixty-plus since 2016.
That inaugural 1981 edition saw Johny Miller get the better of Seve Ballesteros in a playoff; in a field that included Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino. Seve went on to take the title two years later in 1983 and became the first person to win it twice, successfully defending in 1984.
Many other notable names won the event in the pre-DPWT days, including Bernhard Langer (1985, 1991), Ernie Els (1999, 2000, 2002) and Jim Furyk (2005, 2006).
Thomas Bjorn won the first DPWT edition in 2013, with a two-stroke victory over Sergio Garcia and Jamie Donaldson. He was followed by comfortable successes for Danny Willett (2014), Marc Leishman (2015) and Alex Noren (2016); before Branden Grace won in 2017 to become the first South African winner since Trevor Immelman in 2007.
Lee Westwood won for the third time in 2018 - having previously recorded back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011 – and was followed by fellow Englishman, Tommy Fleetwood in 2019.
Fleetwood had to wait three years to get the chance defend his title, as the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to the pandemic. He did just that last year, with a one-stroke win over Ryan Fox and returns to defend again this year, as he looks for what would be a record-breaking threepeat.
Each edition of the Nedbank Golf Challenge has been staged here at Gary Player Country Club, in the lavish resort of Sun City in South Africa’s North West province, where it sits at an elevation of 1130 metres above sea level.
As well as having hosted several events on the Sunshine Tour, Gary Player CC stepped in to host the 2020 South African Open – an event co-sanctioned between the DPWT and Sunshine Tour - for the first time, where Christiaan Bezuidenhout ran out an emphatic five-shot winner over Jamie Donaldson.
The course was designed by the legendary Gary Player and opened for play in 1979. It is an absolute monster on paper, as a par 72 measuring 7834 yards, though will play significantly shorter (more like 7450 yards) due to the altitude that it sits at. There are ten par 4s (424-518 yards), four par 5s (547-601 yards) and four par 3s (211-219 yards).
The test that awaits this week is stern but fair, shown by an average winning score of -15.33 over the nine events staged on the DPWT since 2013. Thomas Bjorn’s -20 in 2013 is the lowest winning score in this time, whilst Branden Grace (2017) and Tommy Fleetwood (2022) have won the most difficult renewals with scores of -11.
This flat, tree-lined course is bordered on every hole by dense bushland that will almost always result in a lost stroke if found.
Kikuyu covers the predominantly doglegging fairways – which can get pretty tight in places – and also provides ample protection in the gnarly rough; strategic bunkering offers up further punishment for wayward drives.
The small, quick and uniquely-shaped bentgrass greens are tough to find - possessing the 7th-lowest greens-in-regulation numbers on the DPWT - and are penal should you miss; also ranking as the 7th-toughest scrambling course on tour, where heavy bunkering is a prominent feature. It is imperative that you hit the ball well around here.
Water adds another dimension of danger and is in-play on a handful of holes, including the final two. Whilst the interesting routing can prove troublesome if the wind blows, with many holes prompting a change in direction to the previous one.
- SG: Approach
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- SG: Putting (Bentgrass)
- Par 5 Scoring
The strongest ball-strikers should be respected most this week, particularly players that are excelling with their iron play. Each of the last four winners of this event have ranked highly in both approach and greens-in-regulation.
Tommy Fleetwood ranked 2nd In GIR and 6th in approach when winning last year and was 5th in approach and 8th in GIR when winning in 2019. Lee Westwood was 3rd in approach and 4th in GIR in 2019; Branden Grace 1st in approach and 4th in GIR in 2018 and though the stats from the 2020 South African Open are a bit muddled, the top two of Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Jamie Donaldson both hit their irons well.
Looking a little closer at those leaderboards and we see many strong performances in this area from other contenders too. Ryan Fox was 2nd in approach when runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood last year; Thomas Detry led the field in approach when 3rd in 2019 and Sergio Garcia was the 2nd-best iron player in the field when runner-up to Lee Westwood in 2018.
This is a challenging driving course and winners here typically drive the ball at least solidly. Fleetwood was 16th off-the-tee last year but the club proved to be his most important club in 2019, as he ranked 3rd.
Lee Westwood was top 25 in 2018, as were his closest challengers, whilst each of the top 4 were top 25 OTT in 2017 – two sitting inside the top 10 - including winner, Branden Grace, who ranked 12th.
Several players have leaned on the putter to go well, such as Ryan Fox ranking 3rd on the greens when 2nd last year and Lee Westwood was 2nd in putting in his 2018 victory. Therefore, a proven ability on speedy bentgrass surfaces is an obvious positive.
Additionally, it has often been pivotal to take it to the par 5s. Fleetwood led the scoring on these holes on his way to winning in 2019, as did Westwood in 2018; a feat also achieved by last year’s runner-up, Ryan Fox.
Correlating Events (Courses)
Omega European Masters (Crans-sur-Sierre)
Though Crans is much shorter and played on far hillier ground, being one of few courses played at altitude have enabled it to develop an abundance of cross-over form with Gary Player CC.
Notable Correlating Form:
- Lee Westwood: Nedbank (1st, 1st, 1st) / European Masters (1st)
- Alex Noren: Nedbank (1st) / European Masters (1st)
- Danny Willett: Nedbank (1st, 4th) / European Masters (1st, 2nd)
- Thomas Bjorn: Nedbank (1st) / European Masters (1st, 1st)
- Tommy Fleetwood: Nedbank (1st, 1st) / European Masters (5th, 8th, 9th)
- Victor Dubuisson: Nedbank (3rd, 3rd, 4th) / European Masters (3rd)
- Scott Jamieson: Nedbank (2nd) / European Masters (4th)
- Jamie Donaldson: Nedbank/S.A Open (2nd, 2nd) / European Masters (3rd, 7th, 9th)
Alfred Dunhill Championship (Leopard Creek Country Club)
Leopard Creek is another iconic Gary Player design that provides a similar driving challenge and has closely-matched averages in scrambling and bogey avoidance.
Notable Correlating Form:
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout: 2020 S.A Open (1st) / Dunhill Championship (1st)
- Branden Grace: Nedbank (1st, 3rd, 4th) / Dunhill Championship (1st, 3rd, 4th)
- Danny Willett: Nedbank (1st, 4th) / Dunhill Championship (4th, 9th)
- Louis Oosthuizen: Nedbank (3rd, 6th, 7th) / Dunhill Championship (2nd, 7th, 7th)
- Scott Jamieson: Nedbank (2nd) / Dunhill Championship (3rd, 3rd, 4th)
- Thomas Detry: Nedbank (3rd, 7th) / Dunhill Championship (3rd)
- Ross Fisher: Nedbank (2nd, 4th) / Dunhill Championship (3rd)
BMW PGA Championship (Wentworth Golf Club)
Wentworth’s tree-lined course offers a comparable ball-striking test to this week, with its small, quick greens particularly difficult to find.
Notable Correlating Form:
- Danny Willett: Nedbank (1st, 4th) / BMW PGA (1st, 3rd, 5th)
- Alex Noren: Nedbank (1st) / BMW PGA (1st, 3rd)
- Tommy Fleetwood: Nedbank (1st, 1st) / BMW PGA (6th, 6th)
- Branden Grace: Nedbank (1st, 3rd, 4th) / BMW PGA (5th, 5th)
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout: 2020 S.A Open (1st) / BMW PGA (3rd, 5th)
- Ryan Fox: Nedbank (2nd) / BMW PGA (1st)
- Chris Wood: Nedbank (3rd) / BMW PGA (1st, 4th, 6th)
- Ross Fisher: Nedbank (2nd, 4th) / BMW PGA (2nd)
- Jamie Donaldson: Nedbank/S.A Open (2nd, 2nd) / BMW PGA (2nd, 7th)
Open de France (Le Golf National)
Le Golf National is more exposed but with the questions it asks of your short game and driver, it ranks closely in many aspects to Gary Player CC.
Notable Correlating Form:
- Alex Noren: Nedbank (1st) / France (1st)
- Tommy Fleetwood: Nedbank (1st, 1st) / France (1st)
- Danny Willett: Nedbank (1st, 4th) / France (5th)
- Thongchai Jaidee: Nedbank (7th, 9th, 9th) / France (1st, 2nd)
- Marcel Siem: Nedbank (4th) / France (1st)
- Jamie Donaldson: Nedbank/S.A Open (2nd, 2nd) / France (5th, 6th, 6th)
- Ryan Fox: Nedbank (2nd) / France (6th)
- Marcus Kinhult: Nedbank (2nd) / France (5th)
Wales Open (Celtic Manor – Twenty Ten Course)
Celtic Manor is a similarly lengthy course with a tough tee-to-green test that compares closely to this week’s course.
Notable Correlating Form:
- Alex Noren: Nedbank (1st) / Wales (1st)
- Tommy Fleetwood: Nedbank (1st, 1st) / Wales (2nd)
- Thongchai Jaidee: Nedbank (7th, 9th, 9th) / Wales (1st)
- Thomas Detry: Nedbank (3rd, 7th) / Wales (2nd)
- Jamie Donaldson: Nedbank/S.A Open (2nd, 2nd) / Wales (4th, 8th)
Conditions are going to be hot, dry and humid in South Africa this week. With no rain forecast over the four days and temperatures reaching the mid-30s every day.
The winds could gust at close to 20mph throughout the week, though won’t be a constant threat.
This week’s field is open to the top 60 available players on the Race to Dubai, which due to several absentees of those who qualified, means we go down to #74 on the rankings; with South African, Hennie Du Plessis the lucky last man to make it into the field.
These top players are joined by a quintet of star invitees: Justin Thomas, Max Homa, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari and Branden Grace.
With #1 Rory McIlroy and #2, Jon Rahm missing, Adrian Meronk at #3 is our top-ranked player from the R2D in attendance. He is joined by Ryan Fox and Victor Perez, who rank 4th and 5th respectively.
Tommy Fleetwood returns to defend and along with Branden Grace, is one of only two former winners teeing it up in Sun City this week.
Tommy Fleetwood heads the betting at 13/2 as he attempts to become the first player to successfully defend this title three times on the bounce. He is followed by the U.S raiders, Max Homa at 8/1 and Justin Thomas at 12s; with Ryan Fox next at 14/1.
The top of the betting is easy to leave alone here. Fleetwood is short enough and it’s tough to know where the respective games of the American duo are at. Fox appealed most of this leading quartet in the betting but it’s yet to be seen whether last year’s runner-up finish in the Nedbank is a sign of things to come or if he’ll revert to type this week, at a course where he’d previously failed to break into the top 50 in three attempts. At 14s, I feel he’s best left alone.
The event has a relatively open feel to it and this is reflected in my selections, where I start at the 35/1 mark with Matt Wallace, who needs a good week to force himself into next week’s DP World Tour Championship.
1.25 pts Matt Wallace each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 40/1
Wallace had a positive start to the year, gaining a first PGA Tour title in the Corales Puntacana Championship in March. He struggled for form thereafter in the U.S, though since his return to Europe at the end of August he’s turned his game around.
He has made his last ten cuts in a row, during which time he’s recorded three top 10s on the DPWT. The first of these came eight starts ago when he was unlucky to finish 2nd in the Czech Masters and the other two have come over his last four starts, with him finishing 6th in the Dunhill Links a month ago and on his last start he finished 9th in the Qatar Masters.
The Englishman has been the 3rd-best tee-to-green player on the DPWT this year, ranking 3rd in GIR, 16th in approach and 39th off-the-tee. He’s also a good bentgrass putter; as he showed three starts ago back in the U.S, ranking 3rd on the greens in his 28th-place finish in the Shriners Open.
Wallace has played here three times, recording an encouraging best of 5th in 2018. He showed his ability at altitude when 2nd at Crans last year and if continuing to display the type of form he’s showed over recent weeks, I’m confident he can go one better than that at Gary Player CC this week.
1 pt Ryo Hisatsune each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 45/1
Japanese 21-year-old, Ryo Hisatsune is a player on the rise; he can rely on the strength of his ball-striking and putting to perform well on his first start in the Nedbank Challenge this week.
Hisatsune only turned pro in 2021 after a solid amateur career predominantly spent in Japan. He took to the pro ranks swiftly, racking up three wins on the AbemaTV Tour (the Japanese development tour) and produced countless top 10 efforts when stepping up to the main Japanese Golf Tour last year.
At the end of last year he headed off to DPWT Q-School, where a 7th-place finish saw him complete the transition from the second tier of Japanese golf to the DPWT in around eighteen months.
Hisatsune’s promise at this level was evident right from the off, as he finished 2nd in the Australian PGA Championship at the end of last year and he has continued to impress in 2023. In nineteen DPWT starts this year, he has recorded ten top 25s, turning five of them into top 10s and missed six cuts.
Undoubtedly the best result of his rookie season came four starts ago in the Open de France, where he fired an excellent closing 66 to become just the third Japanese winner in the history of the DPWT.
Hisatsune impressed again two starts ago in the ZOZO Championship – an event co-sanctioned between the PGA Tour and JGTO – where he finished 6th and once again looked in good shape when 21st two weeks ago in the Qatar Masters, on his return to DPWT action.
He’s a terrific ball-striker, ranking 17th off-the-tee and 19th in GIR this season; complimenting this with some real quality on the greens, where he ranks 11th.
That makes Hisatsune a good statistical match for this challenge and with his win in France and a 13th on his solo spin around Crans a further boost in relation to his suitability, I expect him to be a real feature here.
1 pt Marcel Siem each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 55/1
Marcel Siem has been on the comeback trail the last couple of years and got his rewards with a first DPWT win in nine years at the Indian Open in March – at a course also designed by Gary Player. Form has continued to look strong since then and he can continue it this week at a course where his record is impressive.
Siem has recorded a further seven top 25s in twenty starts since recording that win in India. He went close to adding a second title of 2023 when 2nd in the Porsche European at home in Germany and has achieved another three top 10s; two of which have come over his last three starts, when 4th in the Open de Espana and 7th in the Andalucia Masters. He will need to be forgiven a missed cut in Qatar last time out, where his recently strong approach play deserted him.
The putter has been the German’s biggest weapon this year, ranking 3rd; whilst he sits a respectable 35th with the driver. His approach play has been a little in and out but of late he’s been improved; ranking as the 2nd-best iron player in his 4th-place finish in the Open de Espana and was inside the top 15 in Andalucia. If he can move on from his poor display in Qatar and replicate those prior performances, he’d look a good fit for the test.
Siem has certainly shown this in previous visits, where in three attempts he’s recorded finishes of 4th in 2014 and 6th in 2020. A win in France in 2012, along with top 10 efforts at Crans, Wentworth and Celtic Manor are an added plus.
1 pt Sebastian Soderberg each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 70/1
Having not missed a cut since the start of July, the often inconsistent Sebastian Soderberg has found a surprising level of consistency over recent months. As a former winner at Crans and finishing 5th here last year, he has proven himself very comfortable playing at altitude and can use that comfort in his surrounds to turn his solid run of results into a win this week.
The Swede started the year strong by finishing runner-up in the Abu Dhabi Championship on his first start of 2023. A typically up-and-down run of results came after, where he followed missed cuts with top 10s in the Jonsson Workwear Open and Italian Open but his efforts have been much more stable since missing the cut in the British Masters at the beginning of July.
Soderberg has made eleven cuts in a row and recorded four top 25s. His best effort over this time came when finishing 5th in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and he also hit the top 10 in the Barracuda Championship in the U.S – another event that is played at significant altitude.
He’s hit the ball soundly this year, ranking 34th in GIR, 50th in approach and 58th OTT. His irons looked especially good two weeks ago when finishing 19th in Andalucia, as he recorded his 2nd-best approach numbers of the year. A good ability on the par 5s is a bonus and whilst the putter has been an issue at times, he has been better of late and recorded two of his best putting displays of the year within his last five starts.
As mentioned, Soderberg finished 5th here last year after finishing 30th on his debut in 2019. His win at Crans bodes well, as do several top 10s in Wales and as a player who has taken down Rory McIlroy (among others) in a playoff, he has enough about him to handle whatever is thrown at him this week.
1 pt Thriston Lawrence each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 70/1
Thriston Lawrence has been one of the breakout stars of the DP World Tour over the last couple of years and can take another step forward by winning “ Africa’s Major” this week.
After the fortuitous circumstances surrounding his Joburg Open victory in 2021 – as the event was called after two rounds due to covid restrictions, meaning as the halfway leader, Lawrence was declared winner – the South African would’ve felt like he still had it all to prove at this new-found level. Something he has more than done in the last two years.
Lawrence started last year well and earned what would’ve felt like a breakthrough victory in the European Masters later in the year; then rounding out his 2022 campaign in style with a memorable win in the South African Open.
While his results have been typically varied this year, he became a four-time DPWT winner in Germany back in June at the BMW International Open; making him one of the most prolific winners on tour in recent years.
His results have left a little to be desired since his win in Germany, though he did give himself another look at victory when 3rd in the Irish Open. Having said that, coming here off the back of making his last five cuts, his game looks perfectly solid and for all he hasn’t managed to break into the top 30 over those recent starts, he has shown he doesn’t need to be in blistering form to notch up victories.
Lawrence has had many strong efforts on the Sunshine Tour here and transferred that to this event by finishing 13th on his Nedbank debut last year. As a winner at Crans, as well as being someone who excels with his ball-striking, ranking 23rd in GIR, 31st OTT and 38th in approach this season, there is plenty to suggest he’s an ideal fit for this tournament.
0.75 pts Nacho Elvira each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 150/1
Nacho Elvira shot inside the top 50 on the Race to Dubai after his 3rd-place finish in the Qatar Masters two weeks ago. However, his place in the DP World Tour Championship is not yet secure and to stay there, he’ll likely need another good showing this week.
I am confident he can do that here, at a place where he has often performed solidly, including finishing 13th on his last Nedbank appearance in 2019. His win at Celtic Manor in 2021 and several top 10 efforts at Crans also suggest he’s well suited to Gary Player CC.
The year has been far more miss than hit for the Spaniard, though he has upped his game on a couple of occasions; that 3rd in Doha acts as the most recent example but he did go one better when 2nd in Denmark in the Made in HimmerLand back in July.
Elvira has not made it to the final event of the season since 2016. This year offers up one of his best opportunities to do so since then and though his game is a little hard to predict, there’s enough to like about his efforts here and at comp courses that make him worth a shot at a big price in Sun City this week.