Henrik Stenson is hoping to begin the defence of his Race to Dubai crown in exactly the same fashion as he claimed the title of Europe’s number one golfer at this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge – by dominating the world’s best players.
After an enforced break to rest his injured wrist, the Swede will be the man to beat at the magnificent Gary Player Country Club in Sun City as 30 of the world’s elite golfers do battle for US$6.5-million.
Featuring on the European Tour for the first time in its illustrious 33 year history, the Nedbank Golf Challenge is South African golf’s jewel in the crown with a legendary list of past champions including Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer who is this week’s defending champion.
Stenson is another name on the Nedbank roll of honour, having taken home the title in 2008 and finishing runner up the following year after a play-off with Robert Allenby.
“This is a very special tournament and a place that I just love coming back to,” said the world number three.
“I love the golf course – it is one of my favourites in terms of the design because it can be played as a resort course for the many people who enjoy all year round but then it allows the tournament officials the opportunity to really toughen it up for us when we arrive and make it a real test for the pros.
“You have to be very precise with your iron play around here and that was the real key to my victory here.
“It’s an exciting time for the tournament with the changes in place and the field increasing to 30 players and now being a part of The Race to Dubai. The increase in the field brings more guys into it obviously and makes it more difficult to win given the quality of the field but I am sure all the guys are looking forward to the chance.
“One thing that won’t change is the atmosphere around the tournament. It is one of those great weeks on Tour where the players are looked after so well and we get to enjoy this amazing resort and all the good things that come with it.”
Stenson is hoping that the wrist injury that forced him to withdraw from his defence of the South African Open Championship a fortnight ago has been given sufficient rest to allow him to contend for what could be the fourth win of an astonishing year.
The 37 year old has, since the summer, been widely regarded as the world’s form player as he became the first man in history to win the Race to Dubai and the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup.
“I have had a specialist looking at it and there are still minor issues there but I am hoping to be ok this week,” he said. “The ten days rest I had was really necessary and I will go and get another consultation on it during the early part of the Christmas break.
“I was able to play through the whole Final Series with it and it wasn’t so much about physical pain hitting golf shots it was more the inflammation afterwards and the fact I knew there was structural damage in there which were the main concerns.
“I know it must have been difficult for everyone involved in the SA Open to see me winning in Dubai, hitting a three wood to two feet on the last hole of the tournament and then withdrawing from that tournament but I had been putting a lot of pressure on it for a whole month and was getting treatment every day, taking anti-inflammatory pills. I have spent more time in the ice bucket than a bottle of Moet & Chandon over the last month and I just had to rest it.
“Once you are in a bad cycle you can’t just keep putting pressure on it because your body can’t take that. That was the case for me – I had to listen to what my body was telling me. I hope it is fine to play here because as I said before this place has been really good to me and I love coming down here.”