Nedbank Golf Challenge Betting Tips: Eddie Pepperell can go well in South Africa
The DPWT closes out its 2021/22 season next week in Dubai at the DP World Tour Championship; first we head to South Africa and Gary Player Country Club in Sun City for the Nedbank Golf Challenge, making its return to the schedule after a three-year absence due to the pandemic.
Originally starting out as essentially an exhibition event in the 1980s and possessing fields of no more than ten players, the tournament became part of the DPWT schedule in 2013 and increased to a 30-man field, then increasing again to a 60+ man field in 2016, in which it found its new spot on the schedule as the penultimate event to the season ending DPWT Championship.
This year’s field consisting of 66 players: the top 60 available players from the DPWT’s Race to Dubai standings, along with five invitations and the money-list leader on the Sunshine Tour last season.
Tommy Fleetwood was the last winner of the event in 2019, defeating Sweden’s Marcus Kinhult in a playoff, following on from Lee Westwood winning his third Nedbank title in 2018; names such as Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els amongst a star-studded list of players to have tasted success at this venue.
Though we haven’t seen this actual event since 2019, Gary Player CC has stepped in as host of the South African Open the last two years; an event co-sanctioned with the DPWT in 2020, where Christiaan Bezuidenhout routed the field by five-shots, though held just Sunshine Tour status in 2021 due to issues caused by the pandemic.
These events in addition to the many events it hosts on the Sunshine Tour; the Sun City Challenge from 2016-2019 and has hosted events such as the Blue Label Challenge and SunBet Challenge over the last couple of years.
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Situated in the luxurious Sun City Resort, Gary Player CC is, on paper, a brutish par 72 measuring over 7800 yards, though due to being at altitude will play at around 7450-7500 yards.
The course offers a tough challenge from start to finish; the tree-lined, doglegging fairways are historically tough to find here, despite not being overly narrow and are protected by a large amount of bunkers, some thick rough if you stray too far as well as dense bushland. Varied greens are notoriously difficult, particularly if the weather permits them to play as fast as they can and protected by more extensive bunkering; whilst there’s also water in-play on a handful of holes.
Whilst nothing is easy, it is a fair test and if you avoid the abundant danger lurking around here, you can score; represented by an average winning score of -15.5 over the seven renewals since this event came onto the DPWT schedule.
The four par 5s will be reachable for most, especially when taking the altitude into account; the par 4s have a pretty even mix of “par is a good score” lengthier holes, along with some shorter, more attackable ones; though the par 3s offer a challenge, all are reasonably lengthy and well protected.
Strong iron play has proven to be by far and away the biggest necessity in recent tournaments at Gary Player CC and with likely soft conditions this week, I expect this to be even more important.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout led the field in approach when winning the South African Open here in 2020, whilst runner-up, Jamie Donaldson also showed quality in this area, ranking 5th. Tommy Fleetwood ranked 5th when winning in 2019, with Thomas Detry and Jason Scrivener, both tied 3rd, ranking 1st and 6th respectively.
Go back a little further and we find Lee Westwood ranking 3rd in approach when winning in 2018 and Branden Grace 1st when taking home the title in 2017; players such as Sergio Garcia and Victor Dubuisson also relying on excellent approach performances to propel themselves towards the top of the leaderboard.
It’s too noticeable how a good week on the greens has been a big advantage in recent renewals. In 2020, Bezuidenhout ranked 7th on the greens, whilst three of his four closest challengers: JC Ritchie, Jamie Donaldson and Dean Burmester each ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Tommy Fleetwood and Branden Grace were both solid on the greens when winning, with quality, top 5 ranking putting performances in behind each of them from Bernd Wiesberger and Thomas Detry in 2019 and Haotong Li and Scott Jamieson in 2017; whilst in 2018 Lee Westwood shone on the greens when winning.
Finally, as a tough driving course it’s sensible to weight in some level of quality off-the-tee, despite it not necessarily being as important as your iron play and putting, though Tommy Fleetwood did rank 3rd OTT when winning in 2019. However no apparent advantage for either long or accurate drivers, with leaderboards here littered with both types.
Key Stats: SG: Approach, Greens-in-Regulation, SG: Putting
Secondary Stats: SG: Off-the-tee
BMW PGA Championship @ Wentworth Golf Club
The DPWT’s flagship event take places on another challenging but fair course, possessing similarities throughout; from the doglegging, tree-lined fairways, to the tricky small greens and clever bunkering; it has strong form-ties with Gary Player CC.
Alex Noren and Danny Willett have won at both venues, whilst 2020 South African Open champion, Christiaan Bezuidenout, has two top 5s at Wentworth. Jamie Donaldson has a runner-up finish at both; Marcel Siem two top 10s to go with two top 5s here in South Africa; Darren Fichardt, Ross Fisher and Alejandro Canizares strengthening the form-ties.
Dubai Desert Classic @ Emirates Golf Club
To the Middle-East, where the Dubai Desert Classic’s challenging all-round test compares well to the Nedbank and thus has some strong form-ties.
Danny Willett has tasted success in both events, Haotong Li is a past winner here and possesses two top 5s in the Nedbank; whilst other past champions at Gary Player CC, Alex Noren and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, have both finished 2nd in Dubai; Jason Scrivener, Dean Burmester and Marcel Siem adding to the form-ties.
Abu Dhabi Championship @ Abu Dhabi Golf Club
Host of the Abu Dhabi Championship until this year, Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a course where strong ball-strikers have traditionally thrived and despite it’s more open setup, has developed noteworthy form-ties with this week’s venue.
Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer have won both events; Jamie Donaldson – a two-time runner-up at Gary Player CC - also a past champion there. Jason Scrivener has finished 2nd to compliment his good record here; Alejandro Canizares and Ross Fisher feature again, with the likes of Thomas Detry and Dean Burmester adding more depth.
Open de France @ Le Golf National
Finally the Open de France’s challenging nature has seen it develop plenty of strong crossover form with the Nedbank.
Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren have completed the double across the two courses, whilst Bernd Wiesberger and Marcel Siem have also won in France and have good records here in South Africa. Jamie Donaldson has multiple top 10s at Le Golf National, with Haotong Li, Thomas Detry, Ross Fisher and Alejandro Canizares also going well at both.
The forecast looks pretty bleak this week, with thunderstorms predicted to arrive over the weekend. Hopefully that doesn’t transpire and we get an uninterrupted event, though with rain sure to fall, a bit of spice will be taken out of the course and receptive conditions should further play into the hands of those quality iron players.
The top 60 players on the Race to Dubai are eligible to participate this week, though due to all not taking up the option to play, we go right down to number 76 in the rankings, with Will Besseling the lucky benefactor of that final spot in the field.
Tommy Fleetwood returns to defend his title as the highest ranked player in the field at #25, closely followed by New Zealand’s Ryan Fox at #26. They are joined by last year’s leading Sunshine Tour player, Shaun Norris, with the five invitational spots taken up by the South African quartet of Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Richard Sterne, JC Ritchie and Branden Grace, along with next year’s European Ryder Cup captain, Luke Donald; no doubt looking to get a good look at some of the hopefuls this week.
Nedbank Golf Challenge Tips
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood is awarded favouritism at 9/1; followed by our most recent winner on the DPWT, Jordan Smith and Thomas Detry - who has been playing excellently out on the PGA Tour - at 14/1.
There’s a raft of quality players at around the 20/1 mark, including past winner here, Christiaan Bezuidenhout; however I start a little higher in the betting this week, with a player who’s been hitting his irons just about as well as anyone on tour and threatening to notch up another win since July, Eddie Pepperell.
Eddie Pepperell 33/1 – 1/5 6 places (Betfair) – 1.5 pts ew
After a poor previous 18 months, Pepperell turned his fortunes around in a big way at Hillside in the Cazoo Classic, recording his best finish for 14 months when 11th.
He finished 2nd next time out in the Hero Open in Scotland and hasn’t looked back since; having not missed a cut in his last eleven starts, where he’s finished no worse than 32nd; hitting the top 20 six times; a 4th place finish in the Portugal Masters last time out his second-best finish of the year.
A large portion of this drastically improved form has been engineered by the rediscovery of Pepperell’s high-class approach game, an area in which he ranks 2nd on the DP World Tour this year and 19th in GIR; gaining strokes in all but one of those last eleven starts since his form turned around.
However, his irons can’t take all the credit, as he’s currently enjoying his best ever year on the greens, ranking 21st on the DPWT and similarly it’s an area which has fired throughout this run.
Though he’s not as explosive as most off-the-tee, he makes up for this by being one of the most accurate, ranking 13th.
With the shape his game is in, Pepperell should relish the setup and conditions at Gary Player CC; a place where he finished 34th on debut five years ago, ranking 3rd in the field in approach that week and with a good record at Wentworth to boot - where he’s twice finished 6th – adding further encouragement, there are more than enough reasons to expect him to reward his excellent run of form with a win this week.
We were on Adrian Otaegui two starts ago when he routed the field in the Andalucia Masters and as one of the best iron players on tour over recent months – along with Pepperell – he makes a very compelling case again this week.
That win for Otaegui had been coming, as he recorded finishes of 3 – 13 – 25 – 13 – MC in his five starts prior - the missed cut more than forgivable in a troublesome Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - though the fashion in which he did it at such a notoriously difficult course in Valderrama was certainly unexpected; producing his best ever recorded approach and putting performances, gaining just over 20-strokes in both areas combined.
He followed that with a 47th place finish in the Mallorca Open last time out, once again showing quality in approach, ranking 4th but was let down by what was a rare poor week with the putter compared to recent form; something I’m happy to forgive coming the week following his win at Valderrama and considering he ranks a solid 38th in putting on tour this season.
Not only is his game in a good place but Otaegui has plenty of experience of Gary Player CC, having played here three times and though underwhelming on his first two visits in 2016 and 2017, he put up a much improved performance when 16th in 2018.
A good record in France, where he’s recorded finishes of 7th, 12th and 13th adding further confidence to my belief he can perform here and I expect him to go well this week..
I just couldn’t get away from Victor Perez here. Though he’s not quite hitting it as well as he was earlier in the year, the Frenchman is still statistically one of the best ball-strikers on tour and possesses a couple of extremely attractive correlating form figures, having finished 2nd both at Wentworth and in Abu Dhabi.
He won for the second time on the DPWT back in May at the Dutch Open and though his form has been a little more in and out since, he’s recorded a further two 3rd place finishes; most recent of which came in Italy three starts ago, where he was just a six-footer away from getting himself into the playoff won by Robert MacIntyre.
There he produced a solid T2G performance, gaining strokes in every area but really excelled on the greens; an area he generally blows hot and cold in but that he’s actually been pretty solid in the last couple of months.
He followed that with solid efforts in the Dunhill Links and in France though will have to overcome a poor performance in Portugal two weeks ago.
He ranks 10th on tour this season in approach, 15th in GIR and 16th OTT; evidence of that ball-striking prowess he possesses; with the aforementioned pieces of form in Abu Dhabi and at Wentworth he just looks a perfect fit for Gary Player CC if able to get those key areas firing.
Ewen Ferguson has come of age this year on the DPWT; I’m hoping he may not be done winning in 2022 just yet and am taking him to handle this test on his first start in the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
For all he’d contended a bunch, the Scotsman was winless at every level since turning pro in 2016 but has made up for that in spades this year, winning not just once but becoming a two-time DPWT winner in the space of five months.
The first victory came in a tough, windy Qatar Masters at the end of March, an impressive win just three starts after he blew a nice lead in the Kenya Open. Following a few months of indifferent form, Ferguson went in again in Northern Ireland, winning the ISPS Handa World Invitational at Galgorm Castle, a win that further signalled his ability to handle a difficult course/test.
He has missed five of his next seven cuts, though counters this with a 2nd place finish in the Made in Himmerland and was 9th in Mallorca last time out; he’s a player that doesn’t need to be showing consistently strong performances to peak for a contending week.
Most of Ferguson’s quality comes from his ball-striking, ranking 7th in GIR, 13th in approach and 31st OTT on the DPWT. He had struggled on the greens for most of the year but I have been encouraged by much better putting performances over recent weeks, in which he’s gained strokes in each of his last six recorded starts.
As he’s shown with those two wins, he relishes a challenging test and if able to keep up that form with the putter, whilst finding his ball-striking best, Ferguson can put himself in the mix this week.
Paul Waring ticks a lot of boxes this week; he’s hitting the ball well, generally producing solid performances on the greens and has plenty of encouraging form here. After finishing 2nd two starts ago in Mallorca, where he demonstrated the type of form his ball-striking is in, as he ranked 2nd in approach and 4th off-the-tee; he can bounce back from an off week in Portugal to contend here at Gary Player CC.
That 2nd in Mallorca was Waring’s second runner-up finish of the year, after chasing home Richie Ramsay at Hillside in the Cazoo Classic back in July; with two further top 10s in Wales and Sweden representing a good year for the Merseyside man.
His ball-striking has fired throughout, though he’s particularly shone in approach, ranking 11th on tour this season, rarely going through down periods; typically able to rectify a poor performance pretty swiftly, which gives me confidence he can put his poor performance in Portugal last time out to the back of his mind.
His ball-striking has helped him to a decent book of form here, finishing 19th, 35th and 24th on his three visits, where he’s driven the ball well.
Strong results in Dubai and Abu Dhabi - where he’s recorded finishes of 3rd and 6th respectively - increase my confidence in him here and with him also showing some consistently respectable putting performances over recent weeks, he looks well placed for a big showing that will solidify his place in the DP World Tour Championship next week.