Sun City - Even though he beat two of South Africa’s favourite sons for his two Nedbank Golf Challenge titles, Sergio Garcia knows that he will still be affectionately received when he tees off on Thursday at Gary Player Country Club.
He defeated Ernie Els in a playoff in 2001 and Retief Goosen, also in a playoff in 2003. And, after a victory on October 21 in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters which he hosted in his home country, he’s riding a wave of confidence into a tournament he loves.
“Sun City has been a good place for me,” he said.
“Hopefully more of that this week. Excited to be back here in South Africa, where I’ve always had a great following and felt a lot of love. Hopefully I can give them plenty to cheer for.”
Garcia, the 2017 Masters champion, took the momentum he gained from being part of the victorious Ryder Cup squad - and becoming the most successful individual player ever in that team competition - and converted it to that victory in Spain to cap a year which included four other top-10s, but also four missed cuts in the majors.
But his experience at Sun City will help him build on the form he has found.
“There’s no doubt it's been a good couple of months and we are hoping to keep going that way. That’s the goal,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things I need to focus on, but I think this kind of golf course is kind of testing you in every part of your game. It’s testing you on some tee shots. Some tee shots are quite narrow and then some others give you a little bit more room. More than anything, going into the greens and around the greens is where it’s the most difficult and the trickiest. I think your iron play and your chipping and putting has to be on form.
“The course has changed a little bit, not a whole lot. You know what happens here. You know how tricky it can be with how the wind swirls and everything. You’ve just got to try to be committed to what you do, even though sometimes you might look a little bit silly, some shots that the wind might switch or something. Try to be as committed as possible and play the best you can.”
While he’s won the tournament twice, he has a number of other former champions he’ll have to keep an eye on.
Trevor Immelman took the 2007 title, Lee Westwood won twice in 2010 and 2011, Martin Kaymer in 2012. Thomas Bjorn in 2013, Danny Willett in 2014. And then there is Branden Grace, the defending champion.
It’s 15 years since he won, but he seems to have found something of the form which won him his first major championship last year. He could just become the third player after David Frost, Nick Price and Els to win the title three times.