Tommy Fleetwood eyes Sun City hat-trick, but will there be a SA champion?

Nedbank Challenge defending champion Tommy Fleetwood. Picture: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

Nedbank Challenge defending champion Tommy Fleetwood. Picture: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

Published Nov 9, 2023


It’s the week of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, and Europe’s Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood – the winner of the last two editions of ‘Africa’s Major’ – is gunning for a hat-trick of wins at the plush Gary Player Country Club at Sun International’s playground, Sun City.

The tournament will get under way on Thursday morning and as usual, golf enthusiasts are preparing for what is known as the best weekend of golf, festivities and entertainment.

Nedbank and Sun International go out of their way to make it a memorable one, and with the line-up of stars participating, it looks like it’s going to be one for the books.

Englishman Fleetwood, who has taken a liking to the Gary Player design layout after his past two wins, will go for what no other player has achieved in the long history of the event.

After the tournament’s two-year hiatus due to Covid-19, Fleetwood returned to Sun City last year to claim his sixth DP World Tour title and first since he won at the Gary Player Country Club three years ago.

At the end of a thrilling final day battle down the stretch, Fleetwood pipped Ryan Fox to victory after his participation earlier in the week was in question due to illness.

The 32-year-old, who first won the Nedbank Golf Challenge title in a playoff against Marcus Kinhult, will now look to emulate South African great Ernie Els as a three-time champion.

“Nobody has ever won this event three times in a row, so I can’t wait to give that a go,” he said.

Will he be able to tame the Gary Player Country Club course and grab what has become an elusive hat-trick of wins?

Fleetwood will tee off at 11.10am today with Max Homa of the US and South Africa’s Louis de Jager.

Homa has won six PGA titles and has two Korn Ferry victories to his name. The American is looking forward to his South African debut, and is relishing the opportunity of seeing some of the attractions at Sun City during his fleeting visit.

Like Fleetwood, Homa played in this year’s Ryder Cup for the beaten Americans.

Unlike in the past, the Nedbank Golf Challenge field has been expanded to 66 players, carries $6 million in prize money, offers 7 000 Race to Dubai points and ensures that the top 50 in the final DP World Tour order of merit have the opportunity to play their way into the season-ending Tour Championship in Dubai.

Among the 66-strong field at Sun City this week is the winner of the Sunshine Tour order of merit, Ockie Strydom. Strydom is joined by Thriston Lawrence – a two-time winner on the DP World Tour this season – and they are among six South African players in the field hoping for success on home soil.

The other South Africans in the field are Zander Lombard and Hennie du Plessis. Adrian Meronk is the top-ranked player on the Race to Dubai rankings, in third place, after he overtook Ryan Fox with his third title of the season at last month’s Andalucia Masters.

South African legend Gary Player has been associated with the event since its formation in 1981, when he was part of an inaugural five-man field.

From next year, the event will be officially held in honour of the nine-time Major champion in recognition of his contribution to the global game, as it returns to its traditional December date – forming part of the 2025 Race to Dubai, where it will remain for the following two years.

Branden Grace was the last South African to have won the event in 2017, and before that, it was Trevor Immelman in 2017.

IOL Sport