Bjorn to shine in Sun City
David John previews the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City and fancies the in-form Thomas Bjorn to go close at 33/1.
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The Nedbank Challenge at Sun City has been a wonderful event over the years as an elite line-up has gathered at the Gary Player Country Club pre-Christmas to fight it out for a huge prize fund.
Things have changed slightly this season as the field has been expanded from 12 to 30 players. It now becomes part of the European Tour and counts for the Race To Dubai, while there are also world ranking points up for grabs.
The first thing that registers is that there are no real secrets from the bookmakers in this field.
Henrik Stenson heads the market at no bigger than 3/1 as he makes a relatively quick return in his quest to defend his Race To Dubai crown.
The Swede was not far away from perfection last month as he wrapped up the European season in Dubai and his prospects of following up are clear considering he is a past winner and runner-up in this tournament.
He seems fairly confident in the build-up that he remains in top form but he has not entirely shaken off the well-documented wrist injury despite a break from competition since Dubai.
Stenson has another consultation with a specialist before Christmas and his odds are enough to put me off suggesting a bet on his winning streak to continue.
Charl Schwartzel did enough to iron out his swing issues at Glendower to have a reasonably comfortable week on the way to victory in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.
So he is looking to double up as well at 6/1 and clearly poses a threat despite the much higher class of rival on what will be his sixth appearance here. He has a best finish of second in 2012.
Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Ernie Els are all past winners of the Nedbank and in the mix as well but my eye is drawn a little further down the list to Thomas Bjorn and I do feel he could get involved at 33/1.
I have never been the biggest fan of the Dane but your appreciation of a player constantly evolves and there is little doubt he has been playing a high level in terms of quality and consistency.
2013 saw him back on top of the podium in Switzerland on the way to 10th place in the Race To Dubai before he headed to Australia to claim an excellent second in the World Cup behind Jason Day at Royal Melbourne.
We have seen a little purple patch for Danish golf lately with a win for Morten Madsen and a resurgent display from Soren Hansen and with Bjorn being the flagbearer for many years, I am sure he will spark off those efforts a little bit more.
This will be his third appearance at Sun City having finished third in 2000 and T8 a year later and although it has been a long time between drinks in terms of making a return here, Bjorn boasts a strong enough profile to appeal.
I quite like the look of Gary Woodland to go well and I am keen on his chance to justify favouritism as top American.
All five contenders in this market are debutants in the event so are on a level playing field in terms of experience around a course that does take a bit of understanding.
Woodland has enjoyed a welcome return to winning form in 2013 in Reno and nearly doubled his tally when beaten a play-off by Ryan Moore (who reopposes) in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
He spoke to the press that week and explained that he had been playing well and a little putting tip from Phil Mickelson had left him "pretty excited" about a part of his game that had let him down.
He has taken a month's break since to work more on his game and a good performance here with the world ranking points should get him back inside the all-important top 50.
His renowned length from the tee should be well suited to this venue and he can get the better of fellow cruncher and European Tour Rookie of the Year Peter Uihlein.