This week sees two unofficial off season events in the form of the Hero World Challenge in the US and the Nedbank Challenge from Sun City in South Africa. World ranking points are on offer and the best of the best qualify to tee it up at these prestigious, limited field, lucrative events.
HERO WORLD CHALLENGE
It's not only a new sponsor for the Tiger Woods and his foundation hosted World Challenge but it's a new venue as well: Isleworth Golf And Country Club takes centre stage.
Eligibility criteria for the 18 man field includes major Champions and available players in the top echelon of the World Golf Rankings. Fedex Cup winner Billy Horschel will tee it up at a very generous 26.00 while the host himself, Tiger Woods, has been installed at 15.00. Two invites have been handed out to Keegan Bradley and Steve Stricker.
The Arnold Palmer designed Isleworth track features large, undulating and speedy greens, in a similar mould to Bay Hill which is just down the road. Modified by Steve Smyers, the course is now seemingly ranked as the "longest and toughest" in Florida State, potentially playing circa 7,550 yards. A course that has contested the now defunct Tavistock Cup, Tavistock Group have teamed up with the Woods Foundation to jointly host the World Challenge going forward. 2015 will see a further move to Albany GC.
Man to beat
Bubba Watson - 7.50 - has lined up for team Isleworth in the Tavistock Cup and knows the nuances of the track. Indeed Watson bought Tiger Woods' old mansion in the area. Bubba is currently flying high after a win in the lucrative HSBC Champions event on the European Tour. It's no secret the American isn't really a fan of travel and after another week away playing an event on the Japanese Tour, Bubba should enjoy more familiar surroundings and the relaxed atmosphere of the event.
Hideki Matsuyama - 17.00 or 3.25 - is fast earning a reputation as a man for the tougher courses and events. His 2014 stats show why and coming here off a confidence boosting win in Japan, Hideki can take advantage of the rustiness of half the field. Matsuyama picked up his maiden PGA Tour win on the difficult Muirfield Village track and the youngster ranked 6th in strokes gained tee-to-green throughout the 2014 season.
30 players from around the globe will tee it up at the lucrative Nedbank Challenge in Sun City. This event boasts one of the biggest winners' cheques in golf and all the main tours will be represented in the field with the respective money leaders all earning a spot.
The Gary Player CC hosts, and although at altitude in the backdrop of the Pilanesberg mountains, the track stretches over 7,800 yards in length so I like to look straight to the bigger hitters in Sun City. The course is famed for it's clover and kidney shaped greens - each of which is surrounded by strategic bunkering, water hazards, or guarded by false fronts. Length from the tee and a high ball flight from approaches is a good concoction for success around here.
Man to beat
Lee Westwood - 12.00 - showed some of his best form in peaks through 2014, and the back to back Nedbank winner in 2010 and 2011 gets the nod as early market leader due to his form here. His only two other appearances have also been top fives. Lee's tee to green game is the reason he thrives in Sun City and he may prove the man to beat again.
Ross Fisher - 26.00 or 5.00 - and his form on lengthy courses has been a theme on the Unibet golf column in recent weeks and this continues at the Nedbank. Already a winner of the 2014 Tshwane Open in South Africa on a long Copperleaf track, Fisher also got himself into contention on a resort course in Portugal. I likened the spacious Lake Malaren for the BMW Masters to this type of layout, where Fisher ultimately lost in a playoff. The Gary Player CC may fall into the same bracket and finishes of 5-3 in two starts here for Ross may back up this theory.