Golf lowdowns: Nedbank Challenge and The Annika Championship

Leona Maguire, Stephanie Meadow and Tom McKibbin are all in action

Nedbank Challenge

Purse: €5.63 million (€935,000 to the winner)

Where: Sun City, South Africa

The course: Gary Player Country Club (Par 72 – 7,819 yards/7,151 metres)

Opened in 1979 and designed by the legendary Gary Player, the course is set in a subtropical eco region known as the Bushveld. Driving the ball straight is an imperative with tree trouble awaiting any errant shots while water is in play on the ninth, 17th and 18th holes. A feature of the course are the multi-shaped greens – ranging from kidneys to clovers – which are notoriously slick while it is also known for some of the local wildlife to go a-wandering.


Field: This is the penultimate tournament of the European Tour’s season, with only the DP World Tour Championship after it. However, its strategic place in the schedule and while the sizeable prize fund has not lured either Rory McIlroy, currently top of the order of merit, or Jon Rahm to the tournament, it still boasts a strong field. Adrian Meronk, currently third in the standings, has a chance to close the gap on the big two. Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

Betting: Very much based on the horses for courses theory, Tommy Fleetwood heads in as the market favourite at odds of 7-1 with American Ryder Cupper Max Homa rated an 8-1 shot. Adrian Meronk may have been overlooked for a Ryder Cup spot but the Pole’s recent win in Andalucia – his third win of the season – makes him worth a look at 18-1. In terms of each-way value, Marcel Siem tends to blow hot and cold but two top-10s in his last three outings make him worth noting at 50s.

Irish in action: Tom McKibbin – 41st on the R2D rankings and certain of his place in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next week – is the lone Irish player in the field this week. McKibbin is in a three-ball with Ewen Ferguson and Connor Syme (7.31am Irish time).

Quote-Unquote: “The way the schedule was previously on the PGA Tour, to come do this would be wild, you’d have to battle jet lag to go play tournament-to-tournament. When I saw that there was a real off-season for us, I made it a point to play at least one over here (on the DP World Tour)” – Max Homa on getting away from his comfort zone.

On TV: All four rounds will be shown on Sky Sports Golf (Thursday coverage from 8.30am).

The Annika Championship

Purse: €3.25 million (€450,000 to the winner)

Where: Belleair, Florida, USA

The course: Pelican Golf Club – 6,268 yards Par 70 – is located outside Tampa and was originally a Donald Ross design, known in its former existence as Belleview Bitmore. The course underwent a major upgrade in 2018 under the supervision of Beau Welling who sought to incorporate Ross’s influences while also seeking to borrow ideas from Augusta National no less, hence the bright white sand in bunkers and pine straws.

The field: The last of the LPGA Tour’s regular season tournaments and the penultimate one of the season before next week’s Tour Championship, The Annika driven by Gainbridge at Pelican (to give it is full title) has attracted a very strong field headed by world number one Ruoning Yin of China, with nine of the world’s top-10 playing. Nelly Korda is the defending champion and is a course specialist having won in 2021 and 2022.

Quote-Unquote: “To three-peat, obviously three is pressure that I want to perform. But I try not to think about it” – Nelly Korda on chasing a third straight win in the tournament.

Irish in the field: Stephanie Meadow – who is currently 69th on the order of merit and needs to move into the top-60 if she is to force her way into the limited-field Tour Championship next week – is grouped with Dani Holmqvist and Madelene Sagstrom (off the 10th at 12.32pm Irish time); Leona Maguire is in a three-ball with Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Alison Lee (off the 10th at 12.54pm).

Betting: Atthaya Thitikul is still chasing a first win of the season but a hot run of form – 2nd-5th-2nd – in her last three tournament outings has her installed as 15-2 favourite ahead of defending champion Nelly Korda who is rated a 8-1 shot with in-form Celine Boutier at 10-1. Leona Maguire is a 28-1 shot which looks tempting, while Stephanie Meadow is rated at 200-1 which is a decent each-way look.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf (Thursday coverage from 3pm).

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times