Westwood feeling no pressure in Sun City
Nearly three decades after Johnny Miller walked away with that winner’s check in 1981, the Sun City casino resort in South Africa’s North West province continues to attract the stars of world golf – and offer one of the sport’s biggest prizes.
It was the Sun City Million Dollar Challenge when Miller won the inaugural event. Now the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the 30th edition of the invitational tournament has drawn top-ranked Lee Westwood among the 12 players competing for the hefty $1.25 million first prize. Only The Players Championship, the majors and the World Golf Championships have a bigger top paycheck.
The total purse up for grabs at Gary Player Country Club is $5 million, and even the man who finishes last will take home a handy $250,000.
It is “Africa’s major” and enjoys huge popularity with South African golf fans.
“I’d love to win here. It’s somewhere I’ve always enjoyed coming to,” Westwood said Wednesday. “It’s a great tournament. I think ’98 was my first year, I enjoyed it then and I enjoy it now. … I missed it last year when I didn’t play.”
Westwood, who came close to winning in Sun City when he lost a playoff to Ernie Els in 2000, leads a Europe-heavy cast that includes Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Ross Fisher and Edoardo Molinari – all Ryder Cup winners – and South African-born Englishman Justin Rose.
Westwood will be the focus, however, and he’s quickly adjusted to his new leading role after ending Tiger Woods’ record 281-week stay at the top of the world rankings.
“There’s no pressure, really,” said the 37-year-old Englishman, smiling. “Being No. 1 in the world comes as a consequence of playing well. So if you think playing well is going to create more pressure, then you are probably doing the wrong job.
“That’s why I go out and practice on the range at home when it’s freezing cold and you could stay inside. That’s why I work hard and have done for the last 17 years.”
While Westwood chases his first win in Sun City, and a first tournament victory since assuming the top ranking, home fans will cheer for four South Africans – three of them major champions – when the tournament tees off Thursday.
Three-time Nedbank Challenge winner Els, 2004 champion Retief Goosen, British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen, and Tim Clark carry home hopes. Oosthuizen is making his long-awaited debut at the Nedbank.
“I’ve been watching it probably since I was 11,” Oosthuizen said. “You always picture yourself one day there but you never think you are going to make it. … It’s something special, just playing this week, and I’d like to put on a good show. I’m looking forward to it.”
While Oosthuizen makes his first appearance, Els is playing for the 17th time at Sun City.
“The Big Easy” has made more than $7.9 million from the Nedbank alone, and is easily the tournament’s most successful player. Having enjoyed a quiet time recently, he said a new putter and a familiar old event, where he last appeared in 2007, could help complete a return to form that began with victory at the Grand Slam of Golf.
“I’ve really missed the place so I hope to play well,” Els said. “My game’s there. My game’s really not that far off. I just want to get all the pieces together.
“I feel like I’m on the right track, it’s just a matter of time.”
Els, Nick Price and David Frost have all won the tournament three times. No one has ever won it four times.
Completing the lineup in the event sanctioned by South Africa’s Sunshine Tour are Australia’s Robert Allenby, the defending champion, and Denmark’s Anders Hansen, who won the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit last season.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas
He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.
Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.
Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.
In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.
Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.
Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.
Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic
Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double
Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open
Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open
Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row
Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow
Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship
The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ
Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year
And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season
Photo Galleries: Best of ...
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com counted down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below. And click here for the full collection of articles.
Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge
ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.
The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.
They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.
Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.
Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.
Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.
''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''
The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.
In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''
Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.
Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia
Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.
Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.
Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.
Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.
It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.
The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.