Garcia can continue his late crusade
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