LEE Westwood is primed for his first European Tour title defence in five years when he tees it up in the Nedbank Golf Challenge – the penultimate Rolex Series event on the 2019 Race to Dubai.
The former World No. 1 fired a stunning final round of 64 at Gary Player Country Club last year to finish three strokes ahead of Ryder Cup teammate Sergio Garcia.
It was good enough to ensure his return to the winner’s circle for the first time since the 2014 Maybank Championship, in Malaysia.
Westwood talking at Sun City – where the tournament is again hosted by Gary Player – said: “I always look forward to coming back to Sun City.
“It’s a brilliant resort and great golf course. Always done well around here and it brings back good feelings,” said Westwood who has played in 10 Ryder Cups since his debut in 1997, and played in more matches for Europe than any other player in its history.
“It’s nice to be back defending a tournament,” Westwood added.
“It’s tough to win these Rolex Series events and I managed to win this one last year. I’m excited about playing well again.
“I played well in Turkey last week, and excited to get back on the golf course this week,” said Lee, who finished in a share of 10th in last week’s Turkish Airlines Open.
“I’ve won four times around here – three Nedbanks and a Dimension Data,” said the 46-year-old, who has 43 wins around the world since 1996.
“I know the course well. I know where they put the flags. I read these greens pretty well, as well.
“Distance control with the elevation changes and the extremes in temperature all come into that.
“I have a pretty good game plan for the course and I know how to handle the variations in conditions.”
The Nottinghamshire ace became the first European to win the title three times following his victories in 2010 and 2011.
He joined South African legend Ernie Els and Zimbabwean Major winner Nick Price with that treble.
Westwood will start the week in Sun City in the company of Race to Dubai rankings leader Bernd Wiesberger and Yorkshire’s Matt Fitzpatrick, who currently occupies fourth place on the season-long standings.
Austrian Wiesberger has a lead of 387 points over Spaniard Jon Rahm with just two events left to play.
Rahm, winner of the Irish Open, in June – the third Rolex win of his career – has not played in an European Tour event since the Spanish Open over a month ago, which he also won.P
Wiesberger, who already has three wins in 2019, including two Rolex Series – said: “There are so many points to be had over the last events again, and a lot of things can happen.
“I’m just looking to be prepared as good as I can,” said the winner of the Scottish and Italian Opens.
“It’s getting a little bit tighter with some of my game that hasn’t been there the last two weeks.”
Thirty-four-year-old Wiesberger added: “Just look at the course – looking really forward to this week again.
“I’m not looking too much into the ranking and just controlling what I can control.”
Also teeing it up at the Nedbank Golf Challenge this week is 2017 Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood, who made his last appearance at this event that same year.
Fleetwood said: “It’s really nice to be back. I missed last year, the way scheduling worked out.
“Coming back, played it a few years now, and got such a great atmosphere, such a big event, it always has been.
“It continues to get bigger, really, and in terms of how important it is to the season, everything – and, coming down to the final couple of events, it’s special.
“The game wasn’t there in China, so we had to work on it. But I’ve done some good work last week. I feel a lot better.
“I feel a lot happier with where my swing is and where my head is. You know, always when you’re pushing for result, you feel like you should be doing better and you can be doing better.
“It’s difficult when you can’t quite get out of it what you want,” said 28-year-old Fleetwood, whose last win came in Abu Dhabi, in January 2018.
Fleetwood is joined by South African legend Els, who won the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 1999, 2000 and 2002, before the event joined the European Tour’s schedule in 2013.
Els said: “I’m really pleased they gave they the invite. I was coming down to these parts already – I’m over 50 now, so I’m the oldest guy in the field. b
“I’ve had so many great memories around Sun City from fans and from the people I’ve met here, and obviously the golf course is very special to me,” said the winner of two Claret Jugs and two US Opens.
The winner of the Nedbank Golf Challenge will receive 1,665 points on the Race to Dubai – and a cheque for S$2.5million.
Players will then battle for the largest first prize in tournament golf – S$3million – at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, next week.
•For tee times at Sun City click here.