Tommy Fleetwood won the Race to Dubai last season and Justin Rose finished in second place. The two English players are again in the top three with just two counting tournaments remaining. The current leader is Francesco Molinari but none of the top three are playing in the Nedbank Challenge this week. The title of Europe’s number one will be decided at the DP World Tour Championship next week and anyone of three players could win that honour but Molinari is a huge favourite.
Rose moved into third place with a solid win in the Turkish Airlines Open last week. It was the first title defence of Rose’s career and the win took him back to number one in the world rankings. He is also the first player to successfully defend a Rolex Series tournament as he came from three shots off the pace ahead of the fourth round. The win was secured at the first extra hole after tieing with Haotong Li on 17 under in regulation play over 72 holes. Rose is too many points behind Molinari secure a first Race to Dubai title.
Rory McIlroy could come well off the pace and get close to winning the Race to Dubai. The prize funds for the Nedbank Challenge and the Tour Championship mean two wins for McIlroy could see him run close. However, to have any chance Molinari and Fleetwood would have to finish well down the field or miss the cut next week. McIlroy won the Race to Dubai in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and with Henrik Stenson is the only multiple winner of the Order of Merit in its current format.
If McIlroy is travelling to South Africa to play this week you can assume he still thinks he has an outside chance of winning a fourth title. Colin Montgomerie won the Order of Merit eight times between 1993 and 2005 and another title for McIlroy would make him the winning most golfer since the Monty era. Stenson has won the title twice in the last five years but can’t win this time. McIlroy and Fleetwood are the only players who can deny Molinari the Race to Dubai.
The Nedbank Challenge is hosted by South African Gary Player and is played on his course at Sun City in the country of his birth. The venue has hosted the event for the last five seasons and the defending champion is Branden Grace. Alex Noren won the title in 2016 but he is not playing this week. McIlroy is the favourite ahead of major champions Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen in the betting. The course measures 7162 yards which is short by modern standards for a par 72 track. The fairways are narrow which means driving accuracy will be more important than distance.
McIlroy is an excellent driver but the nature of the course won’t give him an advantage. The greens are small and well protected by bunkers so hitting the greens in the correct number of shots will be required for good scoring. The weather is projected to be very dry and hot with light winds. Stamina and fitness will be important and rounds in the heat will be draining. Li could go one better than last week and win the tournament but he is just two many points behind Molinari to win the Race to Dubai.
Grace has the best course form in the field and clearly has a game suited to the layout. He has finished in the top four in three recent starts at the Nedbank Challenge and is 26 under for 12 rounds on the Sun City course. Grace found 18 greens in regulation in the final round a year ago which he played in 66 shots to clinch the win. His major strength was shots gained in approach play so he knows how to find the greens. Top 30s in his last three major championships confirms that Grace is the player to beat in South Africa where he was born this week. Li is another leading contender.