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It's D-day for Fleetwood

 

Tommy Fleetwood has built his lead in the European Tour's Race to Dubai standings on the back of a fistful of strong finishers this year, his victories over World No 1 Dustin Johnson in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and in the Open de France, topping them all.

But if the 26-year Englishman with his trademark flowing locks ever needed a victory, it might very well be in this week's Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City's ultra-long Gary Player Country Club.

If he can win this one coming out of a mini-stall in the last few weeks when he has finished in ties for 20th (WGC-HSBC) and 23rd (in Turkey) he'll be flying so high once more, no one, including the currently rampant Justin Rose, will be able to overhaul him.

A month or so back when he topped the Race to Dubai standings by more than a million points and was playing the kind of golf that looked set to earn him another ton of points before the Tour's grand finale in Dubai next week, he seemed to be cruising to his first capture of a European Tour crown.

That was until Rose, the 2017 US PGA Tour and his 2nd-place finish in the Masters in April now a disappointing memory, crossed the Atlantic to rejoin the European Tour and promptly won two of it's biggest and richest events, the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Turkish Airlines Open back-to-back.

Now suddenly and sensationally Fleetwood was under pressure, severe pressure.

Rose's heroics had rocketed the Olympic champion into 2nd place in the standings with 3,979,250 points and put him so close to Fleetwood’s 4,114,088 that Rose decided he was in a strong enough position to rest up this week ahead of the Race-climaxing DP World Tour Championship next week.

Garcia, the man who beat Rose at the Masters, and fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm who respectively currently sit in the 3rd and 4th positions on the Race to Dubai standings, are also giving the Nedbank Challenge a miss and almost certainly have ruled themselves out as possible Race winners, but Tyrrell Hatting in 5th place with 2,640,074 points, might well be able to get himself into the Race picture heading for Dubai next week if he wins this week.

And in the kind of form he has been in, that's not out of the question. He's the European Tour's other late-season back-to-back winner, having claimed the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open only last month.

Does that make the in-form Englishman this week's favourite? Yes, according to the bookies, it does. On Tuesday morning Hatton topped most of their lists at 14/1 followed by fellow Englishman Ross Fisher and South African home favourites Louis Oosthuizen and Brandon Grace at 16/1.

Fleetwood was in 7th place at a distant 20/1.

Looking at the course, we note that at 7,831 yards off the back tees, it is the third longest track on the European Tour and while this might suggest it is tailor-made for a man like Belgium bomber Nicolas Colsaerts whose startling new-found form last week saw him get within a final putt of victory, Sun City tournament records tend to contradict this suggestion, noting, as they do, that a fair number of Nedbank Challenge winners have been medium-length hitters - possibly because of its high altitude and thinner air which helps make the ball go further and shortens the course.

Thick Kikuya rough and some standout water hazards protect it's small bent-grass greens and last year it seemed to have been toughened up, Alex Noren's winning score - the only one in double figures at 14-under - being considerably less impressive than the tournament's 19-under average for the previous 10 years.

And the weather? Some early morning rain and late afternoon thundershowers are forcast, but apart from cooling things down a litte and maybe softening up the course, it shouldn't play as much of a part in determining the winner as the wind and summer heat.

According to our Golfweather.com boffins, it is going to be hot with afternoon temperatures getting up to a high of 33°C or more on all four days, but it is only expected to blow on the first two when the forecast is for it to get up into the mid 20kms/h.

We took a look at our new Statscaste ap to see how this could effect Fleetwood and Bookie's favourites Hatton, Grace and Fisher and noted that while over 40 rounds all were much of a muchness when playing in winds of up to 30kmh, Hatton had been considerably more successful in winds of between 30 and 40 km/h, averaging scores of at around 66 while his rivals were unable to break 70.

Hatton's record in the heat was also better, his average score of 70 in temperatures of between 20 and 30 km/h surpassing the 72 of Grace, the 74 of Fisher and the 78 of Fleetwood which all seems to indicate that the bookies have got their sums right about Hatton.

Mind you in a field of this calibre, which also includes the likes of Oosthuizen, Noren, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Francesco Molinari, Shane Lowry, Charl Schwartzel, Rafael Cabrera Bello and leaderboard camper, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, there is a wide range of possible winners.

Indeed, in the end, it all may come down to which one of these golfing gladiators carries the best form, holds his nerve and wants the title bad enough.

To me, Hatton is the best fit for these conditions right now, but I certainly wouldn't putt my house on him winning.

RACE TO DUBAI STANDINGS
(Top 10 on Nov 7, 2017)

1 Tommy Fleetwood ENG 4,114,088
2 Justin Rose ENG 3,979,250
3 Sergio Garcia ESP 3,184,582
4 Rahm Jon ESP 2,898,457
5 Tyrrell Hatton ENG 2,640,074
6 Ross Fiaher ENG 2,492,831
7 Rafa Cabrera Bello ESP 2,367,544
8 Alex Noren SWE 2,087,155
9 Francesco Molinari ITA 1,885,390
10 Rory McIlroy NIR 1,832,091 11
11 Henrik Stenson SWE 1,763,945
12 Bernd Wiesberger AUT 1,679,555 13
13 Matthew Fitzpatrick ENG 1,615,086
14 Paul Dunne IRL 1,565,835
15 Thomas Pieters BEL 1,559,859.

LEADING ODDS
(Tuesday am, Nov 7, 2017)

Tyrrell Hatton 14/1
Louis Oosthuizen 16/1
Branden Grace 16/1
Ross Fisher 16/1
Matthew Fitzpatrick 18/1
Francesco Molinari 18/1
Tommy Fleetwood 20/1
Shane Lowry 22/1
Rafael Cabrera Bello 22/1
Alex Noren 22/1
Charl Schwartzel 25/1
Joost Luiten 25/1
Peter Uihlein 25/1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat 28/1
Thorbjorn Olesen 30/1
Bernd Wiesberger 33/1
George Coetzee 33/1
Ian Poulter 35/1
Eddie Pepperell 35/1
Chris Wood 40/1
Nicolas Colsaerts 40/1.

NOTE: For all the latest odds, visit www.oddschecker.com/golf/nedbank-golf-challenge/winner.

Neville Leck

Written by neville@golfweather.com.