Recent rains means the rough is up – but not as high as in some years – while hot weather the last couple of days will make the greens firmer and faster, adding to the difficulty once golfers have safely found the fairway.
Defending champion Thomas Bjorn, whose 65 on the final day last year won him the title and his biggest paycheque ever on his third attempt, said on Wednesday that it was a tough course to tame.
Round one draw – tee times
10.10am – Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain), Tim Clark (SA), Shane Lowry (Ireland).
10.21am – Joost Luiten (Netherlands), Jaco Ahlers (SA), Kevin Na (USA).
10.32am – Marc Warren (Scotland), Danie van Ronder (SA), Danny Willett (England).
10.43am – Louis Oosthuizen (SA), Lee Westwood (England), Martin Kaymer (Germany).
10.54am – Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand), Dawie van der Walt (SA), Brendon Todd (USA).
11.05am – Jonas Blixt (Sweden), Tommy Fleetwood (England), Mikko Ilonen (Finland).
11.16am – George Coetzee (SA), Marcel Siem (Germany), Ross Fisher (England).
11.27am – Jamie Donaldson (Wales), Stephen Gallacher (Scotland), Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand).
11.38am – Brooks Koepka (USA), Pablo Larrazabal (Spain), Alexander Levy (France).
11.49am – Thomas Bjorn (Denmark), Charl Schwartzel (SA), Luke Donald (England).
“If you’re not playing well, then this course is a beast to get around, there are certainly stretches that can really bite you. But there are opportunities to score well too, which is the nature of a good course.
“I remember the Sunday last year was a great day, but it was a tough battle with good players and little things went my way on the back nine. It was certainly a big boost for me, it gave me the belief that I could make another Ryder Cup team, that on really tough courses I can still compete with the best, the game is still there.
“I have a good eye for the course and hopefully I can put up a strong defence, but somebody will kick-start the 2015 year in a great way here,” the 43-year-old seasoned professional said.
Bjorn is not renown for bombing the ball off the tee, but his victory last year will provide inspiration for two South African challengers – Louis Oosthuizen and Tim Clark. Both said they will adopt a cautious approach as the $6.5 million event starts at 10.10am on Thursday morning with Clark in the opening three-ball alongside Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez and Irishman Shane Lowry.
“On the first day you just want to start with a solid round, to set it up. If you’re struggling with your game, then this is a tough course, and with the new thing of 30 guys playing, anyone who gets hot could run away with it.
“But I’ve played here a few times and every year has been a bit better. My game is in good shape after a few weeks off, I’ve done some practice and it feels pretty good. But you never really know what to expect and I’ll just try to stay out of my way,” Clark, whose last start saw him finish second in the lucrative World Golf Championships HSBC Champions, said.
The 38-year-old is making his fifth appearance in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and was runner-up to a runaway Lee Westwood in 2010 in his last outing at Sun City. In 2009 he finished one stroke behind playoff winner Robert Allenby and Henrik Stenson, while his other finishes were sixth in 2005 and tied-10th in 2003.
Oosthuizen is making his fourth appearance in the last five years and is also hoping to learn from those experiences and improve on his previous best finish of fourth in 2012.
“I’m confident going into the tournament, but I want to take it slow. It’s the type of place where a bad hole is around the corner. There are tough tee shots and spots that you need to stay away from. I’ll be cautious out there and take it slow.
“The rough is always very thick and you need to hit fairways and not just take driver and bomb it. There are a lot of holes out there where I’ll be hitting five woods, three-woods and three-irons just to get myself in play,” Oosthuizen said.
One man lurking ominously in the field is Westwood, the two-time champion and Ryder Cup star, who said he was coming into the tournament with confidence.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win it a couple of times, I’ve been coming here since 1997 and it’s a championship I’ve always held in very high regard and want to win. My scoring average is pretty good round here and I’ve been looking forward to this week for a while. Hopefully I can play as well as I did a few years ago.
“There hasn’t been a lot of rain recently so the rough isn’t that long. There could be some low scoring this week, but obviously the conditions will dictate whether or not that’s the case. That’s always the way in professional golf,” Westwood said.