Goosen to lead SA charge

2005-11-30 21:35
Sun City - For the first time in many years, Ernie Els is not the favourite to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

Defending champion Retief Goosen has taken over from the Big Easy and will lead the South African charge when the 25th Challenge tournament starts at the Gary Player course on Thursday.

Els returns to competitive golf after nearly five months as a result of a knee injury.

Even though Els is still the big favourite among the spectators, there is still some doubt about his fitness.

The big question is whether he will be sharp enough to make his mark from the word go.

Goosen, who won the title easily by six shots last year, says he does not mind starting as favourite.

"It's great to return as champion and there's not really more pressure on me."

The world's fourth-best player on the rankings agreed that he was not at his best and that he would have to lift his level of play if he wanted to win the $1.2m (about R7.8m) cheque.

Inconsistent at the moment

"I hope that I can lift my level of play, because I know I haven't played well recently. It will be especially important to start off well."

"The Goose", who twice won the American Open, says his timing is not on par.

"I'm inconsistent at the moment and I'm struggling with my timing.

"You have to be at ease when you hit the ball, but fortunately I'm very comfortable on this course."

He predicts the scores could be lower this year than in 2004.

"The course is quite lush and the fairways are green. The rough is perhaps not as long as last year.

"The greens are in an excellent condition and conducive to good scores," said Goosen.

Els says he is hitting the ball well from the tee, but he is not getting the same distance with his irons compared to last year.

"I think it's because it's not so dry and warm as it was last year."

"I hit quite a lot of balls in the last few days and the knee feels good. (He underwent a knee operation after an injury). I would like to make a good comeback," Els said.

The exciting Sergio Garcia is a dangerous outsider. The Spaniard, who won in 2001 and 2003, is always a strong contender, and this year will be no exception.

The American onslaught is led by Chris DiMarco, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry and Stewart Cink.

Corey Pavin was the last American to win the tournament way back in 1995.

A force to reckon with

DiMarco and Fury especially can give Goosen a hard time.

DiMarco, ninth on the world rankings, played well this year and only a brilliant Tiger Woods stood between him and winning in the American Masters.

It is the sixth time that Furyk will have played at Sun City and after his joint fourth place in last year's tournament, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Tim Clark - the other South African taking part in the tournament - Darren Clarke (Northern Ireland) and Adam Scott of Australia also can't be ignored.

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