The bad news for the rest of the 72-man field in this year’s Nedbank Golf Challenge (NGC) that tees off here on Thursday‚ is that tournament favourite Rory McIlroy still has line honours in the Race to Dubai in his sights.
McIlroy spelled out his ambitions on Wednesday and they extend beyond this week as he has to get the job done here first.
He trails Francesco Molinari‚ Tommy Fleetwood‚ Justin Rose‚ Patrick Reed‚ Xander Schauffele‚ Thorbjorn Olesen and Alex Noren in the Race to Dubai but none of the seven men ahead of him will be in action at the Gary Player Country Club this week.
“My thing is I’m coming here with the goal‚” said McIlroy‚ rather ominously.
“If I can get into that final group on Thursday with Frankie (Molinari) next week (in Dubai)‚ that would be a good start.
“I can’t look too far ahead‚ but if I can do what I need to do this week‚ leapfrog a few guys and get into that final pair on Thursday would be a huge step towards trying to.
“I’m going to need some great golf over the next two weeks‚ but we’ll see what happens this week. I feel like my game’s in pretty good shape.
“I didn’t play great in China but a week off and just sort of reflecting on things. Hopefully I can get off to a good start this week‚” said the Ulsterman.
The course has not had the rain it had in previous years and as a result the rough is not as punishing. McIlroy however is in no position to compare this year’s lay-out to previous installments.
“Everything else is fantastic‚” noted the former world No 1. “The greens are probably some of the best greens we’ve putted on all year.
“This golf course‚ it’s got four par 5s‚ so you take care of those and you sort of have to be pretty conservative the rest of the way.
“You have to put the ball in play. You can’t be too aggressive off the tee. It’s a real test‚” he beamed.
For young local hopeful Brandon Stone the relative lack of rough means more opportunity to play with attacking intent.
“Obviously with a little bit less rough around the greens‚ you can get more aggressive towards the pin placements‚ and they have done a little renovation to the bunkers and that really has made a big difference‚” said Stone.
“I think the scoring has been quite low and the greens are so good‚ you feel like you can hole putts from everywhere. I think overall it’s going to be a fantastic event.”
Defending champion Branden Grace stressed the importance of cashing in when the going is good.
“We all know the storms come in late afternoon and things like that and when the wind start blowing around here‚ it gets tough. Especially being in between these mountains and things‚ it really swirls around quite a bit.
“Obviously it is a tree-lined golf course‚ as well‚ so there is that aspects and places that you have to be on top of your game‚ but the thing about this place‚ 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.”
The bookmakers meanwhile‚ have McIlroy as clear favourite‚ followed by former champion Sergio Garcia‚ Louis Oosthuizen‚ Hoatong Li and Grace.
Proceedings get under way at 8.50am on Thursday morning when Martin Kaymer‚ a popular winner here in 2012 gets the ball rolling in a group that also contains the 2014 winner Danny Willett.