Danny Willett may be forced to rue missed chances as Henrik Stenson returns to action for the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Last week the opportunity presented itself for the Masters champion to take control in the Race to Dubai with a top five finish at the Turkish Airlines Open.
Stenson, first in the money list, and Rory McIlroy, third, sandwich Willett in second and, with both not entering in Turkey, the world number 11 could have moved up to first spot.
Willett, however, could only muster a dismal tied 68th finish, at two-over-par, and has since told Alex Miceli: “I don’t really want to be out there playing golf”.
Race to Dubai leader, Stenson, now has the opportunity to consolidate his lead as the European Tour’s final series second-leg tees off in Sun City, South Africa at the Gary Player Golf Club.
The Swede won this event eight years ago and has 2015 runner-up and 2013 fourth place finishes under his belt, as well as coming into this event on the back of finishing second at the WGC-HSBC Champions two weeks ago.
Despite his poor recent form – including a 68th, 75th and missed cut in his last three starts – Willett shares Stenson’s impressive course form at this event. The 29-year-old took a three-shot victory in 2014 and finished fourth in Sun City last year.
Marc Leishman is the reigning champion, having stormed to a six-shot victory, at 19-under-par, over Stenson, but the Australian will not be returning this year. However, 2015’s well placed Chris Wood (-9) and Victor Dubuisson (-8) will be back hoping to go a few places better this time out.
Thorbjørn Olesen enters on the back of his victory at the final series opener, the Turkish Airlines Open, and can take confidence in Danish form here as veteran Thomas Bjørn won in 2013. Olesen is joined by fellow Scandinavian, and in-form star, Alex Noren.
On their home turf, South African’s have a history of high places at this event. Ernie Els had three victories and Trevor Immelman won it in 2007. Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel both got a top 10 here last year with Louis Oosthuizen tied 11th and Thomas Aiken tied 13th with Jaco van Zyl. George Coetzee, Richard Sterne and Brandon Stone will make up the nine-strong South African ingress expected to perform well.
The Gary Player Golf Club has hosted the Nedbank Golf Challenge since the inaugural event in 1981, including the three years since it became sanctioned by the European Tour for 2013. The course measures a considerable 7831 yards, which is the third longest of any event on the European Tour, meaning it offers the chance for the big hitters to flourish.
This is the second time the event has been played this season as it makes its first appearance on the European Tour’s final series. The final series status now gives it a prize fund of $7,000,000, of which the winner will take roughly one sixth ($1,166,660).
The focus will be on Willett and Stenson, in the absence of Rory McIlroy, to fight it out for the Race to Dubai top spot with the season-ending DP World Tour Championship just around the corner.