Close field in Nedbank challenge

Predicting the winner of this year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge is about as tough as actually playing the par-72 Gary Player layout.

“The whole field is very close and all of the guys have proven themselves,” says three-time champion Ernie Els.

Retief Goosen tops the bookmakers’ boards at 3-1, with Els on offer at 4-1. But overall the betting is pretty tight, indicating that the layers themselves are finding it hard to pick a winner.

The weather could also be a factor, with a 60% chance of rain on Thursday and Friday.
Wet weather, though, could assist the players, as it will slow down the greens and make the ball easier to stop.

Els is making his first appearance since July following knee surgery and his fitness is in doubt. However, any doubts about his form were dispelled at the pro-am on Wednesday when Els fired a four-under-par 68.

Goosen, the defending champion here, says his swing is not up to scratch at the moment.

“I’ve been inconsistent with my ball strike, and my drive is not as dependable as it has been. Especially in the last few months I haven’t been going too well at all,” he said.

Third favourite—at 6-1—is Spain’s Sergio Garcia. As a winner here in 2001 and 2003, Garcia certainly knows what it takes to claim the $1,2-million first prize. The 25-year-old, playing in his sixth challenge, has had a relatively good year and is currently ranked sixth in the world.

Both his victories here came in play-offs and his two victims were Els and Goosen respectively.

Talk about American Jim Furyk, and his unorthodox swing always comes up. But the world number seven lets his good results speak for themselves and there certainly have been many of those.

He is playing here for the sixth time and his best results have been tied-fourth in 2002 and 2004 and despite his four-over 76 in the pro-am, he is still a strong contender here.

Tim Clark is the third South African in the field and there are many who are expecting a strong showing from the 29-year-old. He won the SA Open and the Scottish Open, amassed more than $2-million in prize money, and has risen to a world ranking of 19th.

Also satisfying for Clark is that he made the cut in all four majors, finishing joint third at the US Open, 17th at the PGA Championship, 23rd at the British Open and 39th at the Masters.

His first appearance here two years ago—where he shared 10th place—was not that indelible, but he is a lot better and a more experienced player this time around.

American Chris DiMarco could be good value at 14-1. He has played here three times before and has never been far off the leaders. His best performance was in 2002, when he finished third.

Undoubtedly his finest display of the year came at the Masters, where he made up three shots on Tiger Woods over the final round to force a play-off. Unfortunately for the world number 12, that went the way of Woods.

Australian Adam Scott will have his share of supporters, especially after shooting a seven-under 65 in Wednesday’s pro-am, as will Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke and American Kenny Perry, at 45 the oldest player in the field.

England’s Luke Donald, Argentina’s Angel Cabrera and American Stewart Cink are all playing here for the first time, something which, according to Els, is not in their favour.

“It’s a tough course and it helps if you’ve been here before,” said Els. “You can then get used to the crowds, the course, the grandstands and everything else.”—Sapa

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