Stenson’s the man to beat
It’s not for nothing that Henrik Stenson is the bookmakers’ 3/1 favourite to win this year’s new-look Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City.
And this despite the fact that the field, expanded for the first time to 30 of the World’s best available players, features international stars of the calibre of England’s Justin Rose and Luke Donald, in-form home favourite Charl Schwartzel, this week’s defending champion Martin Kaymer of Germany and other former Sun City winners like South Africa’s ever-green, four-time major champion Ernie Els and Spanish supremo Sergio Garcia.
And if this list of high-profile golfers is not enough, this always glittering event, now officially part of the European Tour with Race to Dubai, Ryder Cup and World Ranking points at stake, also puts on show some of the game’s most exciting 2013 young upstarts, Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, American Peter Uihlein and Dane Morten Orum Madsen to name the three who, perhaps, have pulled off the most impactful wins on the European Tour this season.
If Stenson is the clear favourite ahead of Schwartzel (6/1), Rose (8/1), Garcia and Kamer (12/1) and the rest of a highly talented line-up that includes the best of the South Africans, many top Europeans and some proven American winners like Gary Woodland and Ryan Moore, it’s clearly because of the way in which he has stormed back from relative obscurity a year or so ago amid the 200s on the World Ranking list to the World No 3 spot he so comfortably sits in today..
And this, it should be pointed out, with some truly sensational stroke play that saw him become, for the first time ever, the first man to win, in the same season, both the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup on one side of the Atlantic and the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai crown on the other – or the “double, double”, as he called it
In between two notable slumps, the 37-year-old Gothenburg-born Stenson has been a fine golfer for a long time and in fact in 2008 was good enough to have his name engraved as a winner on a prized Nedbank Challenge Trophy that also includes such stellar names as Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen and Lee Westwood.
But he has seldom, if ever, struck the ball as well as he has this season – and this despite the wrist problem that prevented him from defending his South African Open Crown some 10 days ago.
The highly-rated Gary Player Country Club where the Nedbank Challenge has always been played, is, at over 7 000 metres off its championship tees, as long as you’ll find anywhere in the world and tends to give the longer hitters an advantage.
But perhaps even more important, it’s thick, Kikuyu rough, clover-shaped greens and strategically-placed ponds give the most accurate iron players an even bigger advantage.
And right now Stenson is both of these – long and straight off the tee and unerringly accurate with his approaches to the greens, so clearly if his wrist is OK and his form can hold, he will be a very hard man to stop.
It’s no wonder he told the media at Sun City this week: “This is a very special tournament and a place that I just love coming back to.”
“I love the golf course – it is one of my favourites in terms of the design….you have to be very precise with your iron play around here and that was the real key to my victory here.”
Stenson is not too concerned about his troublesome wrist injury.
“I have had a specialist looking at it and there are still minor issues there but I am hoping to be OK this week,” he said.
“The ten days rest I had was really necessary and I will go and get another consultation on it during the early part of the Christmas break.”
However, golf being a sport in which you can never be sure of anything and this year’s Nedbank field being as strong as it is, nobody should be written off, least of all Schwartzel, who looked as solid as they come in ending his year-long winless drought with the successful defence of his Alfred Dunhill Championship title at Leopard Creek last week.
The fact that his first and only bogey of the week came at the 10th hole in the first round bears ample testimony to the high quality and accuracy of his stroke play.
Another world class golfer you shouldn’t ignore this week is Rose. It takes a special brand of golf to win the US Open, arguably the toughest major of them all, and because he did just that earlier this year, it is pretty clear that on form he’s also got the game to win at Sun City.
So too have Schwartzel’s compatriots Els, a multiple Nedbank winner, and possibly even Louis Oosthuizen if he can extract himself from his recent run of mediocrity and get back to playing the accurate brand of golf that won him the Old Claret Jug a few years back.
The American threat?
It always exists, yes, if only because members of the US PGA Tour play regularly on the world’s toughest tour. But Woodland, Moore, President’s Cup cap Keven Streelman and Zimbabwe’s burly Brandon De Jongh are at something of a disadvantage in that they will be making their first appearance on a course where, as is the case at Augusta National, experience and past knowledge of its intricacies very often count significantly.
During his interview with the media, Stenson strongly underlined the fact that the Nedbank Challenge invariably generates exceptional spectator buzz.
He said: “One thing that won’t change this year, I’m sure, is the atmosphere around the tournament. It is one of those great weeks on Tour.”
Don’t be too surprised if on Sunday, he, more than any of his 29 rivals, is most able to enjoy the roars of the packed and hugely enthusiastic arena that always surrounds the 18th green on the final day.
THE BOOKMAKERS’ ODDS
These were the odds being quoted on all 30 players in the field by Sky Bet on Tuesday morning*.
Henrik Stenson 3/1
Charl Schwartzel 13/2
Justin Rose 8/1
Sergio Garcia 12/1
Martin Kaymer 12/1
Luke Donald 14/1
Ernie Els 18/1
Joost Luiten 22/1
Jamie Donaldson 20/1
Thomas Bjorn 28/1
Francesco Molinari 28/1
Gary Woodland 40/1
Victor Dubuisson 33/1
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano 33/1
Ryan Moore 33/1
Louis Oosthuizen 33/1
Brendon De Jonge 40/1
Peter Uihlein 50/1
Richard Sterne 66/1
Branden Grace 66/1
Thongchai Jaidee 50/1
Kevin Streelman 80/1
David Lynn 66/1
Matteo Manassero 66/1
Morten Orum Madsen 100/1
Darren Fichardt 125/1
D A Points 200/1
Thaworn Wiratchant 500/1
Dawie Van Der Walt 400/1
Peter Senior 500/1.
* For all the bookmakers latest odds you should go to Oddschecker.com
Xander Schauffele pledges to ‘fake it until I make it’ after contracting Covid
Schauffele is one of 16 players in the Sentry Tournament of Champions who failed to win an official event last season.
After years with TaylorMade, Jon Rahm joins Callaway
Spaniard will have Callaway woods and irons in his bag at Sentry Tournament of Champions.
What to expect from the 2021 OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic
There are more prestigious events on the European Tour, but there’s no denying that the Dubai Desert Classic just has something about it.
Organisers delay ticketing process for 2021 Masters as another fan shutout looms
Augusta National Golf Club is considering its options before making a call on 2021 Masters.
Tiger Woods’ former swing coach: I think I over-coached him
Sean Foley reckons he didn’t give Tiger the help he really needed.
Greg Norman returns home from hospital to await coronavirus test results
The 65-year-old spent Christmas Day in hospital after experiencing symptoms.
Lee Westwood sees age as no barrier to his golfing aspirations
Westwood, at the age of 47, has been crowned European Tour’s Golfer of the Year for 2020.
Tiger Woods and son Charlie finish seventh in PNC Championship
Tiger said it was “incredibly special” to spend quality time with his son on the golf course.
Tiger Woods and son Charlie create media storm in Florida
Woods Jnr’s swing looks an awful lot like his famous father’s.