Sun City — Henrik Stenson describes winning this year’s Open as the icing on the cake. He can however add a plump cherry with victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and cement his place at the top of the standings in the Race to Dubai.
Winning the penultimate event before the final tournament in Dubai will put Stenson well clear of nearest rival Danny Willett, but he knows the treacherous course and bigger field presents many challenges and challengers.
"I’ve had a really good year behind me, and it would be nice to finish it off with being Europe’s No1.
"I’m sure he’s going to try and find some game here the last couple of weeks and push me to the limit," he said of Willett, the champion here in 2014.
Stenson, who won at Sun City in 2008 and who has been runner-up here three times, knows his way around the Gary Player Country Club.
Many in the extended 72-man field will be first timers.
"It’s a course that definitely rewards hitting fairways and if you were to miss the fairway, you’ve got a bit of rough and after that, it’s bush and maybe a new ball. So you’d better be on your long game and fairways are going to be a key this week.
"I think the rough is pretty thick," he said.
It is a sentiment shared by another former winner, Germany’s Martin Kaymer.
"Once you miss fairways, it’s very difficult to find the greens. The ball sits down in the rough and then even to get it sometimes back on the fairway, I struggled a couple times today [in yesterday’s Pro Am].
"So driving is a key this week, and they are fairly small greens." SA’s Branden Grace and Retief Goosen who have even more experience around this layout concurred. "I don’t see it this year’s [winning score] being low," Goosen said.
"The rough is up. If it stays breezy, it’s very tricky around this course to judge the wind. So I don’t see any ridiculously low scores this week."
For those hoping to stay the course, Grace stopped short of recommending divine intervention. "It is brutal out there, especially when the wind starts swirling a bit.
"You think it is off the left, then it is off the right. The one guy said it makes Amen Corner look like nothing.
"It is tough to hit the fairways and the rough is brutal. It is tough to hit the green. All aspects of your game has to be on," he said.
For long billed Africa’s Major, the challenge this year has the feel and dimensions of the real deal.
It is a shame that last year’s winner, Australian Mark Leishmann, is not in the field. It makes him the first champion since Jim Furyk in 2007 not to defend his title.
The tournament however, is not short of champion golfers.