Gar­cia can con­tinue his late cru­sade

The Racing Paper - - Golf - ■ by Mitchell Platts

IRE­LAND’S Rory McIl­roy, Den­mark’s Lu­cas Bjer­re­gaard and Thai­land’s Ki­radech Aphibarn­rat are the only three play­ers from the top 15 of the Race to Dubai en­tered in this week’s Ned­bank Golf Chal­lenge hosted by Gary Player which means that front run­ners Francesco Moli­nari and Tommy Fleet­wood have elected to swerve the penul­ti­mate event de­spite a $7,500,000 prize fund.

That opens the door for Spain’s Ser­gio Gar­cia to con­tinue his barn­storm­ing end-of-sea­son cru­sade – he fol­lowed his pow­er­packed Ry­der Cup per­for­mance by win­ning the An­dalu­cia Valder­rama Mas­ters – and claim the ti­tle on the Gary Player CC course where he has not com­peted since fin­ish­ing run­ner-up to Thomas Bjorn in 2013.

Gar­cia is cur­rently 29th in the Race to Dubai but he can make sig­nif­i­cant progress by pock­et­ing this Rolex Se­ries jack­pot first prize and notch­ing his 16th Eu­ro­pean Tour vic­tory at the venue where he won the Mil­lion Dol­lar Chal­lenge in 2001 and 2003.

Mean­while McIl­roy has been granted a glo­ri­ous op­por­tu­nity to re­cover from his dis­mal show­ing in the WGC HBC Cham­pi­onship where he fin­ished vir­tu­ally tailed-off in 54th place some 24 shots be­hind Amer­i­can win­ner Xan­der Schauf­fele.

McIl­roy, cur­rently fifth, is the only player in the Of­fi­cial World Rank­ing top 25 com­pet­ing with even the likes of 2016 cham­pion Alex Noren, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hat­ton, Rafa Cabr­era Bello, Ed­die Pep­perell and Ian Poul­ter choos­ing not to play ahead of the sea­son-con­clud­ing DP World Tour Cham­pi­onship, Dubai.

Nev­er­the­less it is dif­fi­cult to back McIl­roy at short prices while he con­tin­ues to strug­gle – one win in more than two years – so South African Ma­jor Cham­pion win­ners Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel ap­pear safer op­tions to win the ti­tle cap­tured by com­pa­triot Bran­den Grace 12 months ago.

Oosthuizen has not been out of the top 15 in his last five events on this course which has clover-shaped greens pro­tected by strate­gi­cally placed bunkers while Schwartzel was sixth in 2013 and ninth in 2015.

Eng­land’s Matt Fitz­patrick has not pros­pered since win­ning the Omega Eu­ro­pean Mas­ters in early Septem­ber but he fin­ished eighth at Sun City last year, af­ter be­ing 16th and 20th the two pre­vi­ous years, and he can find top form again against the dra­matic back­drop of the Pi­lanes­berg Moun­tains.

Man in form: Ser­gio Gar­cia

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