Fireworks will be on display when some of the world’s finest players tee off in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City on Thursday.
The four-day event, dubbed Africa’s Major, will feature a strong field of 30 players from around the world who regularly compete at the highest levels in major sanctioning bodies.
Fans are likely to enjoy their money’s worth at the picturesque North West venue, which has been a favourite among golf lovers for years.
The condition of the course will, however, offer a particular challenge this year due to the dryness of the fairways and greens. Good rains normally give the surface a sparkle that makes putting easy, but no such luck this time around. This should only add to the intrigue, and it may mean we’ll be hearing more “ooohs!” for dropped shots than “aaahs!” for birdies than was the case in the past.
The other notable fact is that players will be out to make a mark on what will be the competition’s last 30-man field.
From next year, the number of competitors will be increased to 72, with the challenge being played before the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in the third week of November.
Success in the competition has been the preserve of European players recently, who have won the past five events.
Englishman Danny Willett (2014), Thomas Bjørn of Denmark (2013), Germany’s Martin Kaymer (2012) and England’s Lee Westwood (2011 and 2010) claimed the crystal trophy.
The contest has been eluding South Africans, with Trevor Immelman having been the last local star to win the event, in 2007.
Defending champion Willett will again be the man to watch after enjoying a good season on the European Tour. He won the Omega European Masters by defeating young English compatriot Matthew Fitzpatrick by a single stroke in Switzerland in July.
Last year, he was in great form when he commanded the leaderboard with apparent ease in the final round to beat fellow countryman Ross Fisher by four strokes.
Kaymer is also likely to give a good account of himself in his quest for a second title at Sun City.
The cool German is renowned for a great swing that helps him to find the green with ease.
The lanky player will be making his fifth appearance at Sun City – a venue he loves with a passion.
With the withdrawal from the contest of Ernie Els, South Africans will be pinning their hopes on Louis Oosthuizen to steal the Europeans’ thunder.
“King Louis” the country’s highest-ranked golfer, at 15th, is yet to win the challenge.
The 2010 British Open kingpin has enjoyed a brilliant golfing run so far. He missed lifting the British Open trophy again in July after finishing as joint runner-up at St Andrews in Scotland.
Oosthuizen will compete alongside compatriots in the field including Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel and debutantes Jaco van Zyl and Thomas Aiken.