Sun City course ropes in top stars

Henrik Stenson (Getty Images)
Henrik Stenson (Getty Images)

Johannesburg - British Open champion Henrik Stenson is expected to bring his magic touch to this year’s star-studded Nedbank Golf Challenge.

The event, which runs from November 10 to 13 at the Gary Player Country Club at the Sun City resort, is usually staged in December, but it will now be staged the week before the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which runs from November 17 to 20.

As the battle to be crowned the European Tour’s number one player nears its climax, the field has been increased from 30 to 72 players. They will compete for $7m (about R95m) in prize money.

Stenson, who is fifth in the world, is among the first international stars who have confirmed participation in Africa’s major.

The contest is hosted by Gary Player in the penultimate competition of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. Stenson, who won the 2008 Nedbank Golf Challenge title, will be joined on the fairways by defending champion Marc Leishman.

The Australian forced the Swede into the second berth in an inspiring showing to win by six shots last year.

The two are expected to draw large crowds to Sun City as they will compete against top local players including Branden Grace, South Africa’s leading golfer.

Grace is ranked 14th globally and he has been enjoying a rich vein of form. He is looking forward to giving Stenson and Leishman a good match at home.

“I’m definitely coming to play at Sun City this year,” said Grace from West Palm Beach in Florida in the US, where he is based.

“I believe, with the presence of great opposition such as Stenson and Leishman, competition on the fairways will be intense.

“I’m determined to prove myself against these guys and capture my first Sun City title.”

Grace, who finished tied fourth after carding under-par eight in last year’s challenge, is looking forward to lifting his first Nedbank Golf Challenge trophy.

He will be joined by his countrymen, former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen (20th), former US Masters title holder Charl Schwartzel (25th) and George Coetzee.

Other notable appearances in the first wave of star names released by the tournament organisers include Rafa Cabrera-Bello from Spain, Thomas Pieters from Belgium and Englishmen Andy Sullivan and Chris Wood.

Together with Stenson, these players are competing at the Ryder Cup, which will be concluded at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, on Sunday.

Alastair Roper, Sun International’s Nedbank Golf Challenge tournament director, expressed delight at the first wave of stars to commit to this year’s tournament.

“To have such a mix of global stars, including major winners, Olympic golfers and Ryder Cup players, is just the beginning of what I know is going to be one of the strongest fields we have ever had in the Nedbank Golf Challenge,’’ he said.

“Our positioning on the Race to Dubai is going to ensure that South African golf fans are in for an amazing week of golf at Sun City.”

The names of the rest of the players will be announced in the next three weeks.

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