When 72 of the world's best golfers take to the tee boxes of the Gary Player Country Club this Thursday, they will be looking to add their names to the storied history of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
It is said that you should always start as you intend to go on, and in that regard 'Africa's Major' hit the mark from the beginning.
The inaugural Million Dollar Challenge had a catchy name thanks to its purse, small but stellar invitation list, and immediately hit the right notes with those in attendance - - not least because it started on New Year's Eve in 1981 and had celebrities such as Sean Connery and Telly Savalas along for the fun.
In Severiano Ballesteros, Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino, the line-up for 'the Million Dollar' could hardly have been more impressive. Major winners all, characters off the course but deadly serious on it, and as a result it was no surprise when an intriguing four rounds ensued.
To top it off, a sudden-death playoff saw Ballesteros face off against Miller but only after Nicklaus missed a putt at the final hole to join them. The US's Miller only emerged as winner -- to claim half of the million-dollar prize money -- following nine holes head-to-head against the Spaniard and the drama has remained present ever since.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT
The early years of the tournament saw a few changes [mostly entry numbers and prize money going up and down], but most notable was that South Africans were trying and failing to win their home tournament.
The following year, in 1993, Nick Price -- Durban-born but Zimbabwe raised -- set about the Gary Player Country Club like a man possessed. He signed his card after 72 holes for a total of 264, a scarcely believable 24 shots under par, and remains the only player to have won at Sun City by 10 or more strokes (countryman Mark McNulty finished 12 back}.
What spurred him on? Well, during the third round in 1992 Price was penalised two strokes after his caddie moved an advertising board on the 11th fairway, breaching local rules. In protest, he didn't sign his scorecard and was summarily disqualified.
TIGER-MANIA SWEEPS SUN CITY
By 1998 a certain Tiger Woods was starting his record streak of being the year-end No. 1-ranked golfer for six consecutive years, which he subsequently extended to 11 times in 12 years.
While he won only once on the PGA Tour that calendar year, and had to settle for three top 10 places in the majors, it was a coup to lure him to 'Africa's Major'.
Tiger-mania saw golf fans, the resort's holiday-makers, and casual spectators from nearby towns and cities arrive at Sun City in their droves; and they were not to be disappointed.
By late afternoon of Round 4, the most iconic golfer of modern times arrived on the 18th green needing to make birdie to tie Nick Price and force a playoff.
Woods was just off the green with his approach shot, but from there he chipped in to force the playoff and send those green-side into raptures. History will record that Price went on to win the playoff (and match Frost's record of three wins) but Woods's ability to make the pressure shot when it mattered reinforced his genius.
ELS TAMES THE MONSTER
Ahead of the 2001 tournament, the Gary Player Country Club course underwent a revamp which was supposed to not only make it longer, but tougher.
"There's no way that we'll see winning scores like [Price's] 24-under and 25-under [Els's record return in 1999]," predicted tournament director Alastair Roper. He was right, but only just.
Els carded for 20-under on the Sunday, as he had in 2000 when he claimed the inaugural $2-million winner's prize, but so did Sergio Garcia -- thanks to a remarkable final round of 63. The Spaniard then chipped in on the first playoff hole to deny the South African an unprecedented hat-trick of wins.
Els wouldn't be denied in 2002 though, when he blitzed through the course in 21 strokes under par to win by eight ahead of Colin Montgomerie and reiterate his mastery of the course, whether old or new.
FICHARDT IN A MAD DASH
Fichardt had been placed on standby for the tournament and, as you do in South Africa, had a 'braai' until midnight before heading to Sun City in the morning 'just in case'.
"I was on the road, stuck between trucks, planning to get to Sun City by 8.30," Fichardt recalled to media as he revealed after an interesting Round 1.
"With about 20km to go I phoned the tournament office and they said they thought I was in the tournament. I said 'you've got to be joking' and they said no...!"
What had happened was that Briton Anthony Wall had pulled out with a back injury, and with everyone else above Fichardt being overseas and unable to get to Sun City in time, he was expected on the first tee at 9am.
"Having been sixth reserve yesterday afternoon, I hadn't even prepared for the tournament... I've hit no balls for the last week-and-a-half, and I didn't have anything set up. So I was quite rattled, I made a few risky overtakes and just left my car at reception and told them to take my keys."
As it happened, apart from only just making his tee-off time Fichardt started his first round so well that at the half-way mark he was in the lead. He failed to hold onto it as the adrenaline wore off but still finished the tournament in a credible tied-5th.