The dust has barely settled on the 2014 European Tour season, but the 2015 circuit is already about to kick off. This week, a limited field will contest the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, South Africa. Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn is the defending champion.
Just 30 players will compete for the $1,000,000 first prize and the field is made up of players from the European, Asian and Sunshine Tours. The event takes place over the excellent course at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City.
Last year, Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn produced a superb final round of 65 to finish the four rounds on 20-under-par – two ahead of Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Jamie Donaldson of Wales. It was an important step for the Dane on the road towards Ryder Cup qualification.
Bjorn is back this week and is joined on the start list by an impressive array of top named players. Major champions Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen will tee it up, so too English stars Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.
Four things to watch for at the Nedbank Golf Challenge this week:
1 - The veterans. Thomas Bjorn will defend the title this week. The 43-year-old has fond memories of this track and will look to feed off those. He has been playing solidly, if unspectacularly in the run-up to this event but a return to this happy hunting ground could provide the spark he needs. Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez shows no sign of fading with age. The 50-year-old was tied fourth at last month’s Turkish Airlines Open, proving he can still mix it with the young bucks. Then there’s Lee Westwood – he’s 41 now and has been showing signs of a return to form in recent weeks. He was tied eighth in Turkey and could have finished further up the board had his putter been a little warmer. If he can find something with the flat-stick, he could be a contender in Sun City.
2 - The purse. $3,500,000 is up for grabs this week with $1,000,000 going to the winner. But with only 30 players in the field, it will be a lucrative week for all those fortunate enough to tee it up. The man who finishes the tournament in 30th spot will still collect $100,000. The points available for the Race to Dubai have been capped, but this event still represents a great chance for those competing to steal a march on the rest at the outset of the 2015 campaign.
3 - The Americans in the field. After winning the Turkish Airlines Open last month, Brooks Koepka has been earmarked as one to watch for 2015. Look out for him to perform well here. This is a course that can stretch to over 7,800 yards and Koepka is one of the longest hitters in the pro game. Then there’s Kevin Na who comes into this event on good form following a tied second place finish at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in early November. Finally there’s Brendon Todd who’ll be looking to use this event as a springboard to bounce back from a poor few months.
4 - The history. Although the Nedbank Challenge has only been a counting event for the Race to Dubai since last year, it was first contested in 1981. Johnny Miller won the inaugural event and Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els (above, in 1999), Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen and Martin Kaymer have all been winners. This is one that any professional would be pleased to add to his CV.
(Related: Ernie Els swing sequence)