Zander Lombard will have started believing that he has what it takes to win the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the first attempt, writes GARY LEMKE.
The 24-year-old South African started the day two shots clear of countryman Louis Oosthuizen and four ahead of Belgian Thomas Detry, but saw his lead shrink to one over both playing partners after an eventful day around Gary Player Country Club at Sun City.
However, he showed remarkable composure and resilience after dropping three shots in as many holes – on Nos 6 and 8 – which could have completely derailed his winning hopes. But he struck back immediately by making birdies at Nos 9 and 10 – both par fives – and made another two birdies at Nos 14 and 15 before dropping a shot at the short 16th where he flushed a 6-iron but missed the green.
His 72 for 205 was countered by Oosthuizen’s 71 for 206 – a round he was far from satisfied with and which could have been worse had he not sunk a clutch putt on the closing 18th – and Detry’s eventful 69, which included a seven at the par-five 14th and a bogey at the 18th. The 26-year-old Belgian, still seeking a maiden European Tour victory, is the foreigner in a South African sandwich in Sunday’s final threeball.
How Detry copes with a partisan local crowd baying for a Lombard or Oosthuizen success remains to be seen, but this trio will know one enough rather well after spending 18 holes together on Saturday.
In joint fourth, three shots behind Lombard and two adrift of Oosthuizen and Detry, are Oliver Wilson (England) and Marcus Kinhult (Finland) after rounds of 67 and 70, respectively, for 208.
Last year’s winner Lee Westwood is in a tie for sixth on six-under 210, five off of Lombard, but the three-time champion is still right in contention when one considers the Englishman shot a closing 64 to win the tournament last year.
Lombard, however, is the man in pole position, and he’s delighted to still be there. ‘I just couldn’t get it going today,’ he said. ‘I mean, I was three over after the 8th, and I had a good fightback to get it back to level par. Then I flushed a 6-iron on the 16th and made a sloppy bogey. I thought it was going to be par, but I got a bogey there. All in all, though, I’m still in the lead. Got to stay positive and really looking forward to tomorrow.’
He said that his approach will continue to be ‘smart’ and not ‘overly aggressive’.
‘I missed two or three fairways that really put me behind the eight-ball, and you can’t attack this golf course if you’re not in the fairway. But I stuck to my guns and started driving it better at 9 and 10. It was much better golf on the back nine.’
Oosthuizen, who was third last year and is seeking his fourth consecutive top-10 finish in this tournament – although he’s desperate to win it for the first time – was unhappy with the way he played in his 71, following opening rounds of 63 and 72. ‘ I was very scrappy and not on top of the irons and not hitting it really close enough. You can’t expect to make birdies from a long way away all the time. I need to come out tomorrow and find that swing I had on Thursday.’
If he does, and if Lombard continues to show the steel that he has so far, South African golf fans are certain to be in for a battle royale.