The 14 confirmed players includes half of the triumphant European Ryder Cup team, with Thomas Bjorn, the defending champion, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher all having qualified for the second edition of the new-look Nedbank Golf Challenge with a 30-man field.
The Race to Dubai, the European Tour’s order of merit, ends this weekend in Dubai with the World Tour Championship, and the majority of the Sun City field will then be confirmed. The only remaining places will depend on who wins the Cape Town Open on November 30 and who the top five South Africans in the world rankings are.
Tournament director Alastair Roper said the likes of Marcel Siem, Jonas Blixt, Louis Oosthuizen, Joost Luiten, Alexander Levy, Mikko Ilonen, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood were all likely to qualify and had entered, while he would be targeting Ian Poulter, Danny Willett, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Brooks Koepke, the winner of the lucrative Turkish Open at the weekend, and Ernie Els in the coming days to secure their participation.
Top European stars such as Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose will be heading to the United States that week to play in the Hero Honda World Challenge, Tiger Woods’s tournament that has moved from California to Orlando, Florida.
“I’m not holding my breath for Adam Scott, and Poulter, Willett and Garcia have yet to express an interest. Koepke is now sixth on the Race to Dubai and has not yet entered, but I’m going to try and get him to do that soon.
“Ernie is the fourth-highest South African in the rankings so he should qualify, but he has an injury niggle and I think he’s leaving it as late as possible to enter just to see how his fitness is. Dawie van der Walt is in as the winner of the Sunshine Tour order of merit and Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen are the next two South Africans on the rankings.
“Then there’s Ernie and Tim Clark. George Coetzee was in the reckoning on the Race to Dubai but has now slipped out, but if he has a good week now then he could edge out Tim Clark. But a lot of the South Africans – like George, Tim, Branden Grace, Richard Sterne and maybe Retief Goosen will hopefully be playing in the Cape Town Open to try and win that and qualify for Sun City,” Roper said yesterday.
If some of those golfers are culled from the list then the likes of Pablo Larrazabal and Romain Wattel will come into the picture, while South African Danie van Tonder has finned his way into contention through his performances this season. If Englishman Ross Fisher maintains his 18th position in the Race to Dubai then he will qualify through that; otherwise he’s in as the leader of the Sunshine Tour order of merit. If Fisher qualifies through his European Tour ranking, then Van Tonder, second on the local money-list, will be making his Nedbank Golf Challenge debut.
The presence of at least three golfers of Asian heritage – Na, Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat – will also enable Sun International to go on a valuable marketing exercise of their resort to countries like South Korea and Thailand.
Roper was also delighted to report steady rain in the Pilanesberg over the last couple of weeks, which apart from maybe encouraging the moles to burrow just underneath the fairways, should guarantee consistent rough and encourage the golfers to stay on the short grass.
Confirmed players: Thomas Bjørn (Denmark), Martin Kaymer (Germany), Lee Westwood (England), Charl Schwartzel (South Africa), Victor Dubuisson (France), Jamie Donaldson (Wales), Stephen Gallacher (Scotland), Dawie van der Walt (South Africa), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand), Luke Donald (England), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain), Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand), Ross Fisher (England), Kevin Na (United States).