Els turns down NGC invitation
Johannesburg - Lee Westwood will return for an attempt at a hat-trick of titles, but Ernie Els has decided not to accept his invitation to this year's Nedbank Golf Challenge (NGC), Sun International announced on Thursday.
Westwood leapt at the opportunity to try and become the first golfer to win at Sun City for three successive years, returning to the Gary Player Country Club for the ninth time.
However, local favourite Els would not participate in the 32nd edition of the tournament, from November 29 to December 2.
Tournament Director Alastair Roper said it was unfortunate the resurgent Open champion would not be playing, but that "Els had his reasons".
"Obviously, as one of this year's major winners, Ernie received an automatic invite and he was sent that immediately after the Open.
"In August, I met with his management company and they indicated that he was finding it difficult to come back to South Africa this early in the year. He wants to spend time with the family and his kids, who will still be in school.
"They only break up around December 22 and he doesn't want to take them out early," Roper said at the field announcement in Sandton on Thursday.
Westwood, who is the highest-ranked player in the field at No 4 in the world, had apparently committed himself to being a regular contestant in the NGC.
"His manager Chubby Chandler told me that Lee has made up his mind to play at Sun City in perpetuity. He loves the course, he considers it his backyard and he doesn't care who comes along, he believes he can beat them there.
"He's been pretty unstoppable at Sun City before," Roper said.
Invitations are sent to the defending champion, the four major winners - unfortunately none of them have accepted this year - and then according to the world rankings. The cut-off date this year was September 23. The winner of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit (Garth Mulroy) was also guaranteed entry.
This year, the invitations went as far down as world No 35 Nicolas Colsaerts, with three South Africans (Garth Mulroy, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel) and seven members of Europe's triumphant Ryder Cup team cracking the nod.
Roper believes the NGC can only benefit from the hype.
"It was a marvellous Ryder Cup and Europe's magnificent win bodes well for us because it means all those golfers are on top of their game. They will be confident and the memories from Medinah will still be fresh in the public's mind," Roper said.
South Africa's most in-form golfer, Branden Grace, will not be in the field because he was too far down the world rankings at the September 23 cut-off.
"He wasn't even in the top 50 when we made the cut-off, but he won just after that which pushed him up the rankings. But even at his current number 37 in the world, he wouldn't have got in," Roper said.
The NGC field (with current world ranking):
Lee Westwood (England, 4); Justin Rose (England, 5); Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa, 12); Peter Hanson (Sweden, 25); Paul Lawrie (Scotland, 29); Francesco Molinari (Italy, 30); Charl Schwartzel (South Africa, 31); Carl Pettersson (Sweden, 32); Martin Kaymer (Germany, 33); Bill Haas (USA, 34); Nicolas Colsaerts (Belgium, 35); Garth Mulroy (South Africa, 172).