Westwood to drive to third title
Lee Westwood can land a hat-trick of Nedbank Golf Challenge titles this week according to our expert Ben Coley.
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Former world number one Westwood eventually won by two shots from Robert Karlsson last year, but in truth he blitzed the field courtesy of a stunning third-round 62 that at the time Billy Foster called the best he'd ever seen.
To fire such a number - the lowest official tournament round as Padraig Harrington's 2001 knock of 61 came with preferred lies - on a course stretching beyond 7,800 yards was out of this world and according to officials we shouldn't expect a repeat.
"The course will be much tougher than last year by a long margin," said tournament director Alastair Roper.
"Last year the golfers were lucky because we only had rain shortly before the event so the trees and rough didn't have enough water to grow sufficiently."
Should the rough prove as penal as Roper predicts, scoring will surely be much higher. Tim Clark shot nine-under when an eight-shot second to Westwood in 2010 while 2009 champion Robert Allenby won in 11-under, and those are scores that could be competitive this time around.
With conditions in mind, even more so than usual this should be a test of driving. Only one par-four measures under 400 yards and par-five performance is absolutely key - Westwood was 12-under for the four of them last year - so those who hit it long and straight will hold a distinct advantage.
Experience has been essential in the past, and with five newcomers in the field it may well pay to view this effectively as a seven-man field, as the clover-shaped greens and their unique undulations have foxed many a top-class debutant.
All things considered, I favour two men above the rest by some distance and Westwood very much heads that list.
Let's get the negatives out of the way first. Westwood played distinctly average golf after a good start in Dubai last week and by his own standards has had a relatively poor season, with two low-key wins in Sweden and Indonesia.
He's parted company with long-time coach Pete Cowen and friend and caddie Billy Foster, and has decided to take up residence in Florida as he bids to have one last push at winning at the very top level.
All of these changes have surely contributed to him not being as reliably consistent as we're used to and they'll put plenty off backing him this week.
However, for me the positives far outweigh those concerns and he remains very much the man to beat at Sun City.
First and foremost, his course record is exemplary. Since finishing fourth on debut here in 1998, Westwood has put together a run that reads 4-2-5-4-5-1-1, and he's been in absolutely no danger on the final day of the last two renewals.
It's no surprise, then, that he describes the venue as one that fits his eye, and for all that he struggled in Dubai don't forget that he was sixth in the WGC-HSBC Champions prior to that, his third top-six finish in seven official starts.
Westwood is always at his best on par-72 layouts that give an advantage to longer hitters, especially ones like this which include four very tough par-threes which reward only the most pure iron players and it's clear that he putts these greens well.
And for all that he's failed to win in top company for a while; his record in low-key events is superb. Remember, he was second to Justin Rose in October's Turkish Airlines World Golf Final and when he can relax on a course he likes, there really are few better.
Westwood defended his Indonesian Masters title earlier this season and the six titles he's won since first winning this event in 2010 have all been when he's headed the market, so despite a modest week in Dubai I'm more than happy to back him at a slightly bigger price to the one I took 12 months ago.
I'm afraid it's a rather straightforward staking plan for me this week, as I'm saving on Louis Oosthuizen should Westwood fail to fire.
At one place behind Westwood in the Official World Golf Rankings, Oosthuizen's progress over the last three years has been superb and he now truly belongs among the world's elite.
His form figures coming into this event read 4-6-6-2-5, and as a wonderful driver of the ball I'm convinced he has what it takes to show that his sole appearance here, when some 19 shots adrift of Westwood in last, isn't a reflection of the course's suitability. After all, he did win here on the Sunshine Tour in 2007 so we can forgive him that off week.
He's certainly a much better player now and he arrives in much better form, having made just two bogeys and hitting over 80 per cent of greens when fifth in the DP World Tour Championship last week.
Oosthuizen has won his last two starts on South Africa's Sunshine Tour - in between which he was seventh at Fancourt in the Volvo Champions - so he'll be looking forward to a return home and rates the clear danger to my headline pick.
Of the remainder, of course Justin Rose deserves respect having blown an opportunity to win here in 2007, but with the course set to play longer this time around and Sunday's charge in Dubai having potentially taken a bit out of him, he's reluctantly opposed.
Charl Schwartzel has played some solid golf here and his last couple of starts indicate he's not far from his best, but just like Martin Kaymer I worry about his performance on the greens at present.
Peter Hanson could be the newcomer to look out for but history dictates that this is very much a course which rewards experience and, for me, Westwood rates a very solid bet.