Westwood turns attention to Sun City
World No 1 golfer Lee Westwood leads five of the Europe 2010 Ryder Cup-winning team at the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, starting on Thursday.
Fellow Englishman Ross Fisher, Irishman Padraig Harrington, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and Italian Edoardo Molinari are other members of the team heading for the entertainment centre north-west of Johannesburg.
But none of the American side beaten by one-point in a thriller at the Welsh Celtic Manor resort two months ago will be chasing a record $1,25-million Challenge first prize.
Tiger Woods is hosting the Chevron World Challenge in California with two-time Sun City winner Jim Furyk among the field, while another big American drawcard, Phil Mickelson, is competing in Japan.
Apart from star attraction Westwood, four Major winners will be in action at the par-72 Gary Player Country Club: South Africans Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen plus Harrington.
Defending champion Robert Allenby of Australia, South African Tim Clark, Anders Hansen of Denmark and Englishman Justin Rose complete the 12-strong line-up for an event that turns 30 this year.
Westwood, only the third golfer after Americans Fred Couples and David Duval to top the world golf rankings without capturing a Major, is relishing the chance of playing the comparatively flat course.
“It is one of my favourite places to play golf and bring my family along,” he said while conceding that being on top of the golf world takes some getting used to.
“When I sit and realise that I am the best in the world right now I know that is a dream every golfer holds,” admitted the runner-up in the US Masters and British Open this year.
“World number one sounds good to me ... and it sounds even better when a hundred Chinese autograph hunters start shouting ‘sign please, number one’, or at least I think that is what they were saying.”
Nottingham Forest Football Club supporter Westwood finished runner-up to Francesco Molinari—younger brother of Edoardo—at the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai last month.
“It has taken a bit of getting used to because I had not appreciated just how big a deal it was being number one. It is a huge honour and responsibility because I am now representing golf in the public domain.”
Westwood lost a 2000 Sun City play-off to Els and the three-time Major victor knows he can count on local support as he chases a record fourth Challenge title.
Oosthuizen, who mocked form by becoming the fourth South African winner of the British Open in July, is another contender sure to draw the crowds to “Africa’s Major”.
While the organisers wished for more rain, irrigation will ensure a course dotted with water hazards, cunningly sited bunkers and kidney-shape greens is in prime condition.
“A winning score between 12 and 16 under will make us happy. We do not want to follow the US Open where guys are scoring rounds of five over and the winner finishes one under,” stressed tournament director Alistair Roper.
Els fired the lowest winning total of 25 under in 1999, nine years after fellow South African David Frost claimed the title by finishing just four under, the highest winning score.—Sapa-AFP