Bank on Fleetwood to light up Sun City
Race to Dubai leader can stretch clear in South Africa
Sky Sports 1, from 7am Thursday
Palmer's top tip
Tommy Fleetwood 20-1
Five years ago Tommy Fleetwood came to South Africa as a fresh-faced youngster battling to save his European Tour card. He tees up there again this week as an established champion with the Race to Dubai title in his sights.
Fleetwood found 17 greens in regulation in a courageous final round at that 2012 SA Open, when a share of sixth place was enough to salvage his playing rights at the end of a shaky rookie campaign.
The following season, his trademark ball-striking quality delivered a maiden European Tour victory at Gleneagles, and he has added a further two triumphs this year.
Fleetwood has fond memories of South Africa – third place in the 2014 Volvo Golf Champions was another strong performance in the Rainbow Nation – and it could become the country where he effectively wraps up Race to Dubai glory.
Fleetwood has a relatively slender lead over second-placed Justin Rose, but his compatriot and principal RTD rival is taking the week off to recharge batteries ahead of the Dubai season-finale. Expect Fleetwood to pounce on the absence of Rose and bank significant Nedbank Challenge booty.
Gary Player Country Club is excellent terrain for Fleetwood to showcase his long-game class. This beast of a course is a slog for short-hitters, even though the ball travels further at the altitude, and preference is for those who possess both power and control.
Fleetwood has churned out greens in regulations at this course before, with form figures of 14-21-14, failing to seriously contend due to a cold putter.
Read more golf tipping previews
He improved his score each day last year (75, 72, 71, 69) and starts the Nedbank this time more confident than ever. The Southport man knows he can do enough on the greens to win prestigious titles, as he demonstrated in Abu Dhabi and Paris earlier this term.
Fleetwood took a month off between the USPGA and the European Masters, then another month off between the European Masters and the Dunhill Links, freshening himself up for the closing stages of the RTD.
He became a father for the first time in that period and is eager to put the icing on the cake of the greatest year of his life by finishing it as Europe's number one.
A bogey-free weekend in Turkey, where he closed with three birdies in his final seven holes, suggests Fleetwood has rediscovered his A-game at the perfect time to scoop both Nedbank and RTD trophies in a golden fortnight.
Branden Grace 16-1
The biggest challenge to Fleetwood this week could come from local hero Branden Grace. A decade has passed since the last South African winner of the Nedbank, but Grace has proven he can handle the track and has the bottle to claim titles in front of home galleries.
Three of Grace's seven European Tour victories have come in South Africa, most recently a seven-shot romp in the 2015 Alfred Dunhill, and he has a good record at GPCC. A closing 67 yielded tenth place in the final Dimension Data Pro-Am there, and his Nedbank form figures are 20-4-3.
Grace was thrilled to enjoy last week with his wife and dog, having spent the previous five on the road, and should be energised for 'Africa's Major'. He played solid golf to tie for 15th in his two previous outings – CJ Cup and HSBC Champions – and can step up a gear to threaten his first victory of 2017.
He set the record for the lowest round in a Major, firing a 62 at Birkdale in July, but is desperate to lift his first trophy of the year.
Romain Wattel 150-1
Lucas Bjerregaard 125-1
Complete your staking plan with two outsiders who could keep up the streak of European success in the Nedbank. Six of the last seven winners have been European, encouraging support for Fleetwood, Romain Wattel and Lucas Bjerregaard.
Wattel and Bjerregaard both won their maiden European Tour title in September and are carrying more self-belief than ever. The 26-year-olds have the tools to tame GPCC and have been wrongly dismissed by the layers.
Wattel followed his KLM Open breakthrough with 15th place in the Dunhill Links, before narrow missed cuts at less suitable venues in Italy and Spain. Another weekend off seemed likely after an opening 75 in Turkey last Thursday, but the Frenchman recovered with rounds of 68, 69 and 67 to haul himself up to 30th spot.
Wattel was in miserable form prior to his Nedbank debut last year, so ignore his 60th-place finish. There is no reason why he should not act on GPCC and South Africa is a happy hunting ground.
His first tournament as a pro came in the 2010 South African Open and he finished fifth. In 2013, he was third in the Alfred Dunhill and fourth in the Nelson Mandela Championship. He was runner-up in North Africa in the 2015 Hassan Trophy.
Bjerregaard, ninth in the 2014 Africa Open and second in the Dimension Data Pro-Am the following week, is also proven in South Africa. He was only one shot behind Grace going into the final round of the 2015 Alfred Dunhill, but carded an 89. Such meltdowns are difficult to imagine these days from the maturing Dane.
Bjerregaard, who won the GolfSixes pairs event alongside Thorbjorn Olesen in May, made his individual breakthrough with a four-shot Portugal Masters success. Four 67s followed for eighth place in the British Masters. Twenty of his last 21 rounds have been 72 or better, and 32nd place was a solid effort on his Nedbank debut 12 months ago.
Others to note
The American won on the Web.com Tour in September and has impressed since, the highlight being fifth place in the HSBC. Has twice finished fourth in the Tshwane Open and was tenth in his only previous Nedbank start. Punters wanting a fifth string to their bow should opt for Pistol Pete.
The Ascot man is a proven Nedbank performer who was second in 2014. Recent runner-up efforts in Scotland and Italy have made him a popular wager. He has an obvious chance but is winless since the 2014 Tshwane Open.
The fragile Frenchman is always a risky wager – he has withdrawn in-play from six of his last 29 events – but Nedbank form of 4-3 and a bright weekend in Turkey make him worth considering.
The 2010 Open champion is a class act and half of his eight European Tour victories have come in South Africa. He top-scored for the Internationals in the Presidents Cup, but that has been his only tournament in the last seven weeks and he probably has some rust to overcome.
The German has been hinting at a return to form, and the scene of his 2012 Nedbank triumph may provide inspiration.
The lanky Bristolian is a proven Nedbank performer and always dangerous when fully fit. A strong weekend in Turkey makes him interesting.
3pts each-way 20-1 general
2.5pts each-way 16-1 general
0.5pt each-way 150-1 BoyleSports
0.5pt each-way 125-1 Betfred
Course Gary Player Country Club, Sun City, South Africa
Prize money €6.47m (€1,048,522 to the winner)
Length 7,831 yards Par 72 Field 72
Course records – 72 holes 263 Ernie Els (1999) 18 holes 62 Lee Westwood (2011)
Course winners taking part Lee Westwood (three times), Darren Fichardt, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn, Alexander Noren
Last week – Turkish Airlines Open 1 J Rose (8-1), T2 N Colsaerts (80-1), D Frittelli (175-1), 4 P Harrington (150-1), 5 T Olesen (40-1)
Course overview The Nedbank Challenge became part of the European Tour Final Series for the first time last year, with the field size increasing from 30 to 72.
Traditionally only 12 players went to post in this elite, mega-bucks gathering, but European Tour involvement prompted dramatic changes. The Gary Player Country Club has hosted the Nedbank Challenge (formerly the Million Dollar Challenge) since 1981.
The Dimension Data Pro-Am (1996 to 2009) and the Nashua Sun City Challenge (2007 to 2011) are two low-grade Sunshine Tour events which were also staged at this venue.
These days it is an enormous course, but a variety of tees can be used to alter the yardage if bad weather makes the full length unplayable.
The layout boasts kikuyu fairways and fast, clover-shaped, bentgrass greens surrounded by bunkers, swales and mounds. Some low scores were carded many years ago – Padraig Harrington shot an 11-under-par 61 in 2001 playing with preferred lies, while Ernie Els (25 under par in 1999) and Nick Price (24 under in 1993) have also butchered Player's design.
The lengthening of the course, though, has made life tougher for visitors. There are two par-fives on each nine, but players usually have to work hard for birdies at the 596-yard ninth (island green) and the 601-yard 14th (green surrounded by sand).
The course is at altitude, so the ball flies further than usual.
The story of last year Alexander Noren conjured a brilliant final-round 63, romping to a six-shot victory, having started the day six shots behind Jeunghun Wang.
Weather forecast It has been ludicrously hot for the practice rounds, with temperatures reaching 38C.
Slightly cooler conditions are expected for the tournament, with possible afternoon showers and bursts of thunder. Breezes should be light.
Type of player suited to challenge Big-hitters have unsurprisingly asserted themselves on the Gary Player Country Club over the years. The ball flies far at this location, but the course is almost 8,000 yards long.
Key attribute Power
Follow us on Twitter @racingpostsport
Like us on Facebook RacingPostSport