The Sunday Independent - - SPORT -

YOU KNOW it’s good when you’re able to at­tract some of the big­gest names to have played the game, and this year is no dif­fer­ent.

Ma­jor win­ners, world num­ber ones, fan favourites... they’ll all be at Sun City chas­ing big prize money, rank­ings points, and brag­ging rights this week. It’s go­ing to be good, like al­ways.

Johnny Miller was the first to bag the fa­mous tro­phy in 1981 and he’s been fol­lowed by the who’s who of golf: Seve Balles­teros, Bern­hard Langer, Nick Price, Colin Mont­gomerie, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Ser­gio Gar­cia and, more re­cently, Martin Kaymer and Hen­rik Sten­son.

Whose name will be added to the win­ner’s list on Sun­day?

That is the big ques­tion ahead of this year’s Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge, hosted by Gary Player.

The tour­na­ment may not be in the fes­tive first week of De­cem­ber any­more but that doesn’t mean it has lost any of its ap­peal.

In fact, be­ing brought for­ward by nearly a month has al­lowed the tour­na­ment to be of­fi­cially recog­nised as a Euro­pean Tour event, and it now also stands as one of the eight elite tour­na­ments in the Rolex Se­ries in the Race to Dubai.

There is plenty of pres­tige at­tached to the event and the play­ers who’ll tee it up from Thurs­day are tes­ta­ment to this.

Euro­pean Tour heavy­weights Tommy Fleet­wood, de­fend­ing cham­pion Alex Noren, in-form Tyrrell Hat­ton, Sten­son, Lee West­wood, Padraig Har­ring­ton, Ross Fisher, Kaymer and for­mer cham­pion Thomas Bjorn will all be chas­ing vic­tory later this week.

South African golf­ing fans will be des­per­ate to see one of their own tri­umph af­ter go­ing 10 years with­out a lo­cal win­ner. For­mer Masters cham­pion Trevor Im­mel­man was the last South African to win the Chal­lenge, in 2007, af­ter edg­ing SA-born Justin Rose by a stroke. The clos­est any other South African has come to bag­ging the ti­tle was in 2012 when Charl Schwartzel fin­ished two shots off the pace set by Kaymer, while Tim Clarke was also run­ner-up in 2010, but he fin­ished a whop­ping eight strokes off run­away win­ner West­wood.

Schwartzel will be one of the favourites among the lo­cals this week even if the for­mer Masters cham­pion hasn’t had the best of sea­sons on the PGA Tour.

Louis Oosthuizen will also en­joy large gal­leries fol­low­ing him around the chal­leng­ing Sun City ter­rain and so too can Bran­den Grace ex­pect plenty of sup­port.

The course is again ex­pected to test ev­ery as­pect of the golfers’ skills, and is likely to be in pris­tine con­di­tion.

“I’m happy with where the course is at the mo­ment,” said Sun City golf di­rec­tor Ken Payet a week ago.

“We had some early rains which helped the rough, but we don’t want the course too tough... but it must be chal­leng­ing for the play­ers.”

He added all that was left to do was fine-tune the course.

“Now we are just fo­cus­ing on at­ten­tion to de­tail. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to re­pair pitch marks and div­ots, and to spend time mak­ing sure the sand in the bunkers is con­sis­tent – those lit­tle things.”

All that’s left to do is for the play­ers to knock it on the fair­way, find the green and make the putt.

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