Ernie Els signs up for Nedbank Challenge

12 November 2013

Ernie Els, the most successful golfer in the history of South Africa’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, has confirmed his place in this year’s field. It will be the four-time major winner’s record 17th appearance in the event.

Prize money for the tournament, which takes place at the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City in North West province from 5 to 8 December, is US$6.5-million (R67.5-million).

Els, always a huge draw card in his home country, had been scheduled to play in the Tiger Woods World Challenge, which takes place in the same week as the Nedbank Golf Challenge, but instead decided to return to a venue that has been a very successful hunting ground for him.

Nedbank Golf Challenge record

“The Big Easy” recorded wins in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in 1999, 2000 and 2002. He has also finished as runner-up four times and was third on two occasions.

At the age of 44, Els has shown he is still able to compete with the best. Earlier this season he won the BMW International Open on the European Tour, going wire-to-wire after opening with a nine-under-par 63. Just last year, he captured The Open Championship for a second time.

“We are delighted to have Ernie in the field,” Sun International tournament director Alastair Roper said in a statement on the weekend. “He is an institution in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and has been its most popular and successful player ever since his debut in 1992.

“Ernie’s career has overlapped with some of the greatest milestones in the history of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, so it’s wonderful that he’s in the new 30-man field and part of this new era in the tournament.”

New 30-man field

The new format for “Africa’s Major” includes an increase in prize money, and the addition of official rankings points. The event is being co-sanctioned by the Sunshine and European Tours, with the winner walking away with $1.5-million (R15.6-million), while last place will be worth a cool $100 000 (R1.03-million).

“It looks like a strong field this year and I’m really looking forward to coming back and playing such a special event. Also, this was in part a family decision – Liezl, Samantha and Ben are with me for a short while and it made a lot of sense to compete at Sun City,” Els wrote in a diary entry on his website.

“Obviously this tournament holds some really wonderful memories for me and for my whole family. Golf-wise, the highlight was the period from 1999 to 2002, where I won the tournament three times and in the other year finished second in a playoff.

“My combined aggregate score for those four years was 86-under par. That was a good little stretch right there!

“That third win in 2002 was probably the most I enjoyed my golf all year and the final round 63 is still to this day one of the best rounds of my life. It was one of those beautiful golfing days where you see every shot crystal-clear in your mind’s eye, you’re relaxed, you have control of the golf ball and the hole looks twice its normal size. Trust me you don’t forget those rounds.”

SAinfo reporter and Nedbank Golf Challenge