Immelman back home to defend title

Trevor Immelman will make his first appearance at home since winning the US Masters when he defends his title in the Nedbank Challenge limited field tournament at the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City from Thursday.

Immelman, 28, won the 2007 event after receiving a late invitation.

But less than two weeks later he had to withdraw from the South African Open because of a benign lung tumour which required surgery.

Four months later he held off Tiger Woods and the rest of the world’s top golfers at the Masters, holding or sharing the lead through all four rounds in brutally tough conditions.

He hasn’t had a win since and in recent interviews he has admitted that he found it difficult to lift his game to the same level in the months that followed.

”There were many different things that I had to find time to deal with and learn how to handle them,” he said.

”Probably for the first time in my life – and my career – I let golf slip down my priority list.”

Favourite for the $1,2-million first prize is Spain’s Sergio Garcia, whose recent good form has lifted him to number two in the world rankings.

Other strong contenders will include Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson, who combined to win the World Cup for Sweden in China on Sunday.

Stenson has finished second and fourth in two previous appearances at Sun City but world number six Karlsson will be playing in the tournament for the first time.

The 12 invited players are guaranteed a minimum of $200 000 dollars in prize money.

Although this year’s field lacks some of the glamour of previous years, eight of the world’s top 20 will be teeing up.

South African crowd favourite Ernie Els is missing after 16 consecutive appearances during which he won three times and finished in the top three on 10 occasions. Els opted out for family reasons.

Also missing is Retief Goosen, another Major winner, who has dropped down the world rankings.

Exciting young American Anthony Kim was signed up but withdrew because of injury. He was replaced by Luke Donald of England.

Because the tournament carries world ranking points, invitations have to be issued according to a strict formula, either current Major champions or the highest available players on the official rankings after the US PGA championship.

The only exception is the South African order of merit winner, James Kingston, who is ranked 72.

The field (nationality/current world ranking): Sergio Garcia (ESP/2), Robert Karlsson (SWE/6), Lee Westwood (ENG/10), Henrik Stenson (SWE/12), KJ Choi (KOR/16), Justin Rose (ENG/18), Kenny Perry (USA/19), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP/20), Trevor Immelman (RSA/22), Luke Donald (ENG/27), Rory Sabbatini (RSA/30), James Kingston (RSA/72) – AFP



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