Nedbank Challenge – the real contenders

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Henrik Stenson has appeared six times at Sun City and finished no worse than fourth. He won the tournament in 2008 and was runner-up last year; he is the man to beat in my book. He’s well-rested after skipping the Turkish Airlines Open last week and last time out finished second at the WGC HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He ranked No 1 there for driving accuracy and that’s exactly what’s needed to be a contender at Sun City - accuracy off the tee. He loves the course and, as the No 1 in the Race to Dubai standings, knows a good result here will ensure he finishes the year as Europe’s No 1 next week in Dubai.

Alex Noren has enjoyed quite an incredible year on the European Tour, winning three times in 10 starts to shoot into contention for a big pay day next week. The prolific Swede won the Scottish Open, the European Masters and the British Masters in the space of three months and also finished second at the Paul Lawrie Match Play in August. He is the hottest player on tour, but for many his sometimes wayward driving could cripple him this week. As this is his debut he could find the going tough in the hot African sun, but writing him off would be silly after the year he’s had.

Rafa Cabrera Bello sits at sixth in the Race to Dubai standings and arrives at Sun City on the back of a very lucrative season. He tied for second at the Qatar Masters and Dubai Desert Classic early in the year and followed up with a third place at WGC Match Play and three more top 10 finishes, including a tied-fifth place at the Olympics. This will be the Spaniard’s first visit to Sun City, but other first-timers, like Danny Willett in 2014, have won before and if he gets his driving going there’s no doubt he’ll be a contender come Sunday afternoon.

Marc Leishman stormed to a six-shot victory last December, marking an emotional return to the winners’ circle for the Australian after having almost lost his wife to a life-threatening bacterial infection that year.

Stenson pushed Leishman the closest with a 13-under total while the defending champion Willett, the most recent European Tour member to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge, was not far back in a share of fourth.

The Englishman’s victory here in 2014 - when it marked the opening tournament of the European Tour’s 2015 season -proved a sign of things to come. He followed that up with a win at the Omega European Masters before going on to follow his Omega Dubai Desert Classic triumph in 2016 with his crowning glory, claiming the Green Jacket at the Masters Tournament in April.

Charl Schwartzel has everything going for him to be a champion of the tournament and he’ll have plenty of supporters cheering for him over the four days. The former Masters champion’s biggest problem though is driving and it’s the only reason he hasn’t won more often on the PGA Tour, or this tournament, for that matter. If he clicks and gets the ball in the fairways he could go all the way. Besides winning twice early in the season - the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Tshwane Open - he also pocketed the Valspar Championship title on the PGA Tour.

Branden Grace has been pushing hard for a major title for two years now, finishing inside the top five in the US Open and the USPGA Championship in back-to-back years, but has lacked consistency in recent months. However, if he can regain the form that saw him win the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage Classic in April he’ll be a handful at Sun City. Seven top 10s, including a victory in Qatar in January.

Louis Oosthuizen will also be desperate to add his name to the trophy this week as South African fans look for a home-grown champion for the first time since Trevor Immelman won it in 2007. Currently seventh in the Race to Dubai standings, it’s been a steady rather than spectacular year for the 2010 Open champion. While he won the Perth Invitational in February and was runner up at the WGC Match Play, he has had only one other top 10 finish, and that at the Qatar Masters way back in January.

Martin Kaymer won here in 2012 and has featured prominently over the years but of late he’s battled to make an impression, finishing in the bottom half of the field in each of his last three appearances. But with two Major titles behind him and desperate to end 2016 on a high, putting some money on him going all the way this year wouldn’t be the worst thing to do.

MARC Leishman won by six strokes last year after a stunning final round and that after finishing tied for second after a play-off at the Open at St Andrew’s. A regular on the US PGA Tour, he hasn’t done much since his triumph here 12 months ago, but will be full of confidence after mastering the difficult layout, and heat, at Sun City last year.

Danny Willett was the surprise winner in 2014, storming to victory by four strokes over Ross Fischer. Two years earlier he'd won the BMW International and he’d go on to also win the European Masters and Dubai Desert Classic in 2015 and the Masters this year. He’s second in the standings but not in any great form. He’ll have good memories coming back to the Pilansberg.

The par-72 Gary Player Country Club is a gem in South Africa’s crown, built in an extinct volcanic crater and was in 2015 voted the country’s best golf course.

The 7 831-yard course rewards long and straight drives and there is not a lot of room for error from the tee, with testing rough and bush lining many fairways. The flat dimensions can be deceiving too, as water hazards and bunkers are placed cunningly to catch out any mistakes, while the multi-faceted greens leave plenty of options for tricky pin positions throughout the week.

PREVIOUS WINNERS FROM 2000:

2015 Marc Leishman (Aus) -192014 Danny Willett (Eng) -18

2013 Thomas Bjørn (Den) -20

2012 Martin Kaymer (Ger) -8

2011 Lee Westwood (Eng) -15

2010 Lee Westwood (Eng) -17

2009 Robert Allenby (Aus) -11

2008 Henrik Stenson (Swe) - 212007 Trevor Immelman (SA) -16

2006 Jim Furyk (USA) -12

2005 Jim Furyk (USA) - 6

2004 Retief Goosen (SA) - 7

2003 Sergio García (Esp) -14

2002 Ernie Els (SA ) -21

2001 Sergio García (Esp) -20

2000 Ernie Els (SA ) -20

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