Wielding an iron club: Defending champion Alex Noren knows how to tame the Gary Player Country Club course. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Wielding an iron club: Defending champion Alex Noren knows how to tame the Gary Player Country Club course. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

The narrowest victory margin at the Nedbank Golf Challenge since it became an official European Tour event four years ago has been two strokes. The other three times the winning margins were by six, six and four strokes.

The Gary Player Country Club at Sun City has lately tended to be tamed by one player while the rest of the field lags. And defending champion Alex Noren from Sweden is one player who knows how to subdue the course.

The last time the victory margin was by a single stroke was 10 years ago when local lad Trevor Immelman edged England’s Justin Rose, and the last time there was a play-off was in 2009. Robert Allenby defeated Henrik Stenson that time.

Noren, Stenson’s Swedish compatriot, won by six strokes in 2016, carding 14-under 274.

It was not the type of score that usually wins by six shots, but in testing, blustery conditions Noren fired an astounding 63 in the final round. Having started the day six shots off the lead, to win by six was an incredible performance that catapulted him towards a career-defining season that has seen him entrenched in the top 10 in the Race to Dubai.

It is not like that was a once-off for Noren either. At the BMW Championship at Wentworth in May, one of the eight elite Rolex Series events on the 47 tournament Tour of which the Nedbank Challenge is one, Noren shot a final round 62 to overturn a seven-shot deficit to win.

Any player with Noren lurking behind on Sunday is going to be nervously watching the leaderboard.

"It’s such a good feeling," Noren said about being back at Sun City. "Last time I was here — you have all the memories from there, it brings you back. It seems like not very long ago it happened.

"I couldn’t believe that I actually won it because I was a lot of shots back before the last round," he said. "Everything went very quickly and then I was off to the next tournament. Then you come back here and it’s almost like you can let it sink in a bit more."

One of the players hoping to etch his name on the crystal trophy is SA’s Branden Grace after coming third in 2016.

"This is one of those events you grow up watching and idolising and dreaming of winning," Grace said.

"I feel like I’ve got a good chance to play well and if I can get myself in contention, you never know. Coming to play in your home country always makes things extra special and … I feel like if I play well I have a good chance around here."

Grace has recorded some good results in the past five months on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour. In October alone on the PGA Tour, he finished in a share of 32nd at the CIMB Classic, tied for 15th at The CJ Cup, as well as a share of 15th at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions.

On the European Tour front, that share of sixth at the 146th Open Championship remains his best finish this season.

"My game is feeling really good right now," said Grace. "I’ve had some steady finishes the last couple of weeks. Coming up with two top-15s in the last couple of big events on the PGA Tour has been great.

"I also had a week off which I think was needed. But I’m hitting the ball well and the whole game is in good shape, so I hope to finish off strong this week."


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