Home favourite Branden Grace is delighted to be back at the scene of last year’s “life-changing” Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player victory for the penultimate event of the 2018 European Tour season.
Grace returns to Sun City with the memory of his tremendous 2017 triumph fresh in his mind, and while he knows defending the title will not be easy, he would love to be back in the winner’s circle at Gary Player Country Club this week.
The 30 year old knows what it takes to make a successful title defence having done so at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in 2016.
Fellow South African Charl Schwartzel, who has 11 European Tour titles to his name, is happy to be back at an event that means a lot to him, while China’s Li Haotong is hoping to build on last year’s final round when he tees it up in South Africa this week.
The in-form 23 year old, who was beaten in a play-off by World Number One Justin Rose at the Turkish Airlines Open last time out, carded a closing 64 just 12 months ago to finish fourth, and will take the positives from that strong finish into this week.
Major winner Danny Willett is also looking to capitalise on his tied seventh finish in Turkey last week. The 2015 champion is excited to be back in Sun City having missed the event through injury.
Branden Grace: “I can’t believe it’s 12 months already. Time flies. Obviously it’s one of those moments in your career you’ll never forget, almost a life-changing moment, winning South Africa’s biggest event – I would like to say.
“Winning a tournament you grew up watching – and you see some legendary names on the trophy as well – it’s great.
“It’s great being back. A nice thing about days like today is you go out and relive those moments. You kind of remember where you made those crucial putts and where you made those crucial shots and things like that.
“I’m super excited to be back here obviously. This is a tough week defending. It’s never easy, but I’ve done it before, so hopefully we can do it again.
“The thing about this place is you have to keep it in the fairways. The greens are pretty small, as well. So if you can give yourself chances in the fairways getting to the greens, then you’re going to do pretty well out here.”
Charl Schwartzel: “Obviously as a South African, this tournament is really close to us and it’s the first tournament that I came to watch live and watch your heroes play.
“For us, I think it’s probably more special, and for the foreigners it’s a great tournament. Sun City is a great venue. It’s always really good to be back here.”
Danny Willett: “Some good memories around this place. Still doesn’t get any wider the more times you come here. I missed out last year through injury, so nice to be back.
“It’s a course that you’ve really got to try and get on board with and almost play it not necessarily to what you should do, but a bit more like what kind of suits your eye off each tee box and trying to get your clubs right into these small little areas on the corners over bunkers and stuff. You see a wide variety of scoring around this place.
“It was very steady scoring. We never did anything outrageous, but the stale days that we had on the weekend were still a couple under. Just get the blade working a bit more and do a bit of work on the greens this week and see where we can get to.”
Li Haotong: “It was a good finish, so there are a lot of positives to take into this week and hopefully I can have a good week here.
“It has been a very, very good year for me so far. I just have to stay positive and just need to play my best.”