Martin Kaymer can end victory drought at happy hunting ground
German grinder worth Nedbank investment
Sky Sports, from 8am Thursday
The Race to Dubai contest is close to irrelevant this week – Francesco Molinari looks home and hosed and neither the Italian nor his closest pursuer Tommy Fleetwood have bothered to travel to South Africa for the penultimate event of the season.
The Nedbank Challenge is a lucrative tournament in its own right, though, and in the absence of 'Moliwood', Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia fill the first two places in the betting.
McIlroy, whose only previous Sun City appearance resulted in him withdrawing through illness in 2009 when tailed off in last place at the halfway stage, looks a vulnerable favourite. He cheerfully hacked his way to 54th place in the HSBC Champions last time out, seemingly on auto-pilot and lacking appetite for autumn competition.
Garcia is a two-time Nedbank champion and a more attractive option at a slightly bigger price, but motivation may also be an issue for the Spaniard, who won in his homeland last time out and has been enjoying family time since.
Stifling conditions are forecast for Sun City and the two market-leaders may not have the necessary determination – on the practice ground or the course – to apply themselves properly for four days.
Palmer's top tip
Martin Kaymer 40-1
The Nedbank staking plan comprises four players for whom a Sun City triumph would mean an awful lot – a quartet of proven champions who should be fully concentrated on grinding out a competitive 72-hole total at a baking Gary Player Country Club.
For Martin Kaymer, the Nedbank is a great chance to stabilise his career and start the process of climbing back into the elite. The former world number one has dropped to 150th in the rankings, but is confident of soon recovering his place in the upper echelons of the sport.
The German has gone four years without a victory, increasing his work-rate on the practice ground with every passing season, and injury problems in February did not help the cause. He is fully fit again, though, and nicely rested going into the final two months of the year, believing that it is only a matter of time before his application on the range is rewarded.
“I don't have any doubt that the hard work will pay off,” said Kaymer prior to the Turkish Airlines Open. “Right now, it is just about being patient.”
Fifth place last week in Turkey, where he carded four rounds in the 60s and closed with a 66 which was bettered by only two players in the field, suggests Kaymer was accurate in his assessment. He dropped only two shots in 72 holes, his long-game looking in mint condition, and that tee-to-green solidity should be shown to great effect at a ball-strikers' paradise like Sun City.
Kaymer delivered a two-shot Nedbank victory in 2012, despite having arrived after 13 winless months, and he finished fifth last year despite having gone almost nine months without a top-ten finish and opening with a first-round 73. He loves the challenge of GPCC.
At the age of 33, Kaymer still has bundles to offer. He was world number one soon after turning 26, has won two Majors – one by an eight-shot margin – and he holed the winning putt on the 18th hole at the 2012 Ryder Cup. This unflappable character has won 11 times on the European Tour and is hinting at a return to former glories.
Louis Oosthuizen 16-1
South Africa got its first home winner in a decade when Branden Grace took the title 12 months ago and Louis Oosthuizen could keep the home fans happy this time. Oosthuizen won the 2007 Dimension Data Pro-Am at this venue and has been threatening a Nedbank victory for several years, with form figures of 12-4-14-7-11-9-8 since his 2010 debut.
GPCC is perfect terrain for the sweet-swinging Oosthuizen to show off his typically imperious long-game, but he usually arrives at Sun City with plenty of rust in his system. Last year he had gone almost two months without playing a strokeplay event. This time, he has been much more active, with fifth place in the CIMB Classic the highlight of a busy October.
Four of his last six European Tour victories have come in South Africa and the 2010 Open champ can be fancied to go close to an overdue Nedbank title.
Danny Willett 33-1
Lee Westwood 40-1
Six of the last eight Nedbank winners have been European, and a pair of Englishmen can join Kaymer on a Euro-dominated leaderboard. Danny Willett and Lee Westwood are on the comeback trail and are former Nedbank champions to be greatly respected.
Much has changed for Willett since he became a Major champion at Augusta in 2016. More than two years later, he has a new coach, new caddie, and has become a father to two children. A slide which saw him drop from ninth in the world rankings to 462nd has been arrested, and the 31-year-old looks back in business.
The shoulder problems which were blighting Willett seem a thing of the past – his swing has changed under Sean Foley in a bid to sustain full fitness – and the Sheffield lad has been working hard to finish 2018 with a flourish. After 15 months teaming up with Foley, former coach to Tiger Woods and current guide to Justin Rose, Willett appears ready to win titles again.
Willett hits his ball higher than ever with his revised technique, which will help at Sun City, and only four years ago he romped to a four-shot Nedbank triumph. He plays well at altitude – as underlined by his 2015 Crans-sur-Sierre success – and Nedbank form figures of 1-4-11 can be enhanced on Sunday.
Westwood was the King of Sun City in 2010 and 2011, winning back-to-back Nedbanks with a combined total of 32 under par. His first victory was by an eight-shot margin. He also won the 2000 Dimension Data Pro-Am at GPCC by five shots. The 2015 Indonesian Masters was his last success and time at the top is running out at the age of 45, but at GPCC, where his consistent long-game is fully rewarded, the Worksop Wonder is always a threat.
Westwood finished sixth in the Nedbank last year to show he can still cut the mustard in Sun City, and three top-fives on the European Tour in the last four months have shown signs of life from the formerly prolific champion. The first was in a Rolex Series event – the Italian Open in June – where he closed with a 63. Then a Made In Denmark play-off defeat in September was followed by fifth place in the Andalucia Masters at the end of last month.
Others to note
The power-packed Dane has a decent record in South Africa and has been in superb form on the European Tour in recent weeks.
The Bath man suffered a quadruple-bogey nine at the 15th hole of round one in Turkey last week, but a five-under-par weekend was equal to a triumphant Justin Rose. Smith plays well in South Africa and could be a dangerman.
The defending champion has been short of form, adjusting to life as a father, but is difficult to rule out in front of home galleries.
The Joburg boy earned a US Tour card at Web.com Tour Finals and must be thrilled with his career progression. He could enter the Nedbank equation.
Erik van Rooyen
The talented European Tour maiden suffered a neck strain en route to the Turkish Airlines Open, but finished 35th. He seems likely to be a popular selection in his homeland.
The in-form Chinaman performed superbly to earn a playoff spot in Turkey last Sunday, but he rushed his putts on the first extra hole, offering a meek three-jab surrender, and may need more time to recover from that.
2.5pts each-way 40-1 general
2.5pts each-way 16-1 general
2pts each-way 33-1 bet365, Sky Bet, 188bet
1.5pts each-way 40-1 Betway
Course Gary Player Country Club, Sun City, South Africa
Prize money €6.6m (€1,069,290 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 Sergio Garcia (twice), Trevor Immelman, Lee Westwood (three times), Darren Fichardt, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Bjorn, Danny Willett, Branden Grace.
When to bet By 7am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 8am Thursday
Time difference South Africa is two hours ahead of the UK and Ireland
Last week – Turkish Airlines Open 1 J Rose (9-2), 2 H Li (22-1), T3 T Detry (125-1), A Otaegui (150-1), T5 L Bjerregaard (33-1), M Kaymer (100-1), T7 T Olesen (14-1), T Fleetwood (8-1), D Willett (100-1).
Course overview The Nedbank Challenge became part of the European Tour Final Series for the first time in 2016, 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 very 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.
Story of last year Local hero Branden Grace got the better of Scott Jamieson in a thrilling final-round duel, the South African edging the Scot by a shot.
Weather forecast Sunny and extremely hot, with hardly any wind.
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
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