Danny Willett (Getty Images)
Sun City - Much like the green jacket Danny Willett never tires of seeing, returning to the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player and seeing his name on one of the bronze plaques honouring past champions will also never get old.
“You walk up the ninth green and see your plaque on the walkway - it’s always nice,” the 2014 winner of “Africa’s Major” said at the Gary Player Country Club on Tuesday.
Willett returns to an event that is now part of the European Tour’s Final Series and the penultimate tournament before the Race to Dubai’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
It has grown from a once limited field of 12 players to this week’s field of 72 playing for an increased purse of US$7 million.
But Willett doesn’t believe this will change the nature of the tournament too dramatically.
“I don’t think the new format will change this tournament too much. It’s still four rounds guaranteed and you’ve still got a great field. I think it’s going to work really well.”
Yet Willett does concede that the majority of players here will be seeing this course for the first time, which gives him and a few others a distinct advantage.
“It’s been such a small field for so many years that there aren’t that many golfers who’ve seen this course as much as myself or Henrik Stenson or Martin Kaymer. We’ve got a slight advantage because we know the golf course pretty well and between the three of us we’ve done fairly well here over the years.”
In referencing Stenson, Willett has singled out the man he will be chasing more than any other this week.
The Swede recently took over from Willett at the top of the Race to Dubai rankings, and this week will be key in their continued battle to be crowned European number one.
“Henrik and I have had pretty similar years this year. We both won a Major and had good showings in World Golf Championship events. Hopefully I can have a good show this week and close that gap and make Dubai a bit more interesting. For this event to fall where it does in the Final Series can be an absolute boost for me. I’ve been struggling recently to get things going, so it’s nice to come back to this event and a course I know pretty well and have done well on.”
Stenson is equally determined to have a good week and maintain his lead over Willett.
“It’s great to be back. It’s a course where I’ve played good golf in the past and been successful. I’m in a good position on the Race to Dubai. There are a few guys behind me who want to play some good golf so I better keep my head down if I want to stay on top.
“I’ve had a really good year behind me and it would be nice to finish it off as European number one, and I’m sure Danny will push me to the limit.”