The Nedbank Golf Challenge – self-styled as “Africa’s major” – got the winner its heritage deserves on Sunday in the shape of defending champion Tommy Fleetwood.
In 41 years of competition, the tournament had only ever been won by golfers of sufficient quality to play in the Ryder or Presidents cups, a trend that was easy enough to maintain in its early years as an elite-level, limited-field invitation event and even when it was part of the DP World Tour’s lucrative Rolex Series.
But ahead of the latest edition, it was a pattern that seemed set to come crashing to a halt because only two of the 66 starters were ranked inside the world’s top 50.
But guess what? Englishman Fleetwood was the first of that pair, and the second, New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, ended the week as runner-up, separated from the winner only by his bogey at the 72nd hole.
Once again, and in spite of those initial fears, the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, South Africa, had sorted the wheat from the chaff, even though Fleetwood’s quartet of under-par rounds and winning total of 11-under 277 had been the last thing on his mind at the start of the week.
“I have so many great memories of this place, and it was a lovely feeling coming down the stretch with a chance before battling it out. But I do owe the doctor. Without him, I wouldn’t have played.”
The 31-year-old had been forced to pull out of Wednesday’s pro-am with a stomach illness that left him weary throughout the first round. His continued participation seemed more doubtful amid a tiring Saturday that required him to play 28 holes after Friday’s weather disruptions delayed completion of the second round.
“It was touch and go that I’d play on Thursday morning,” Fleetwood told Sky Sports after completing a final-round 67. “I just kept playing hole by hole, and it worked out quite well.”
Trailing third-round co-leaders Rasmus Højgaard of Denmark and Thomas Detry of Belgium by three shots heading into Sunday, Fleetwood hit the turn in 4-under to find himself in a four-way battle at the top of the leaderboard on the back nine.
It was not with Højgaard and Detry, however. The youngsters toiled, while Scotland’s Richie Ramsay and India’s Shubhankar Sharma joined Fleetwood and Fox in a scrap for the trophy.
The Englishman’s turning point came when he found sand short of the par-5 14th green but chipped in for an eagle-3. He alone of the leaders then played the final four holes in level-par. Sharma and Ramsay dropped two shots apiece to end the week third and fourth, respectively, and Fox left his error until the final hole.
“I didn’t miss a shot until 18,” said Fox, whose compensation was that he closed the gap between himself (in second) and the leader Rory McIlroy in the Race to Dubai rankings. “It’s an incredibly tough course down the stretch, and it was Tommy who held it together best of all in what became a very tough wind.”
It was an emotional victory for the winner, his sixth at this level but a first since the death of his mother in the summer. His last victory came in the 2019 Nedbank before COVID scuttled the event in 2000 and ’21.
Fleetwood was also ruing the early departure of his wife and children to the airport, to catch a flight back to the U.K.
“Honestly, one of my biggest goals for a while has been to win with my family around,” Fleetwood said. “Frankie [his son] is always saying I don’t win and brings medals home from school and says it’s because I don’t win at golf. So, they come, and I win, and they’ve left for the airport!