Sergio Garcia’s horseshoe putt for bogey at the final hole ignited dreams of a home victory.
There has been much talk about the revamped 18th hole at the Gary Player Country Club, home of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City. It’s fair to say not every golfer this week is a fan of the decision to move the tee back to now measure 459m and in Friday’s second round the finishing hole played the second toughest of all 18.
Throw in the fact that the 15th ranked the second toughest on the day and those closing four holes wrecked a few promising scorecards.
England’s Ross Fisher was sitting at nine-under-par overall with four holes to play. He made an ugly nine on 15 and bogeyed 16, 17 and 18 to fall to one-under. Had he parred the closing stretch he’d be joint leader with Sergio Garcia on nine-under 135.
Charl Schwartzel also made a nine on No15 on his way to a 78 and he slipped out of contention after posting a 68 on day one. George Coetzee dropped five shots in the last two holes, Brandon Stone bogeyed 15 and 18, while Haotong Li dropped four shots in the last four holes, with two bogeys and a double at 18 to slip back to three-under overall.
‘This is the type of course where no lead is big enough,’ said twice NGC winner and former world No1 Lee Westwood, who carded a 69 to lie five shots off the pace. He too bogeyed No15.
Garcia himself having not dropped a shot in his opening 64, made bogeys at 16 and 18, to slip to nine-under overall, for the lead by one and on target to reach the 16-under he thought after day one would be a winning total.
On his heels after a 67 to add to his opening 69 – making him the only man in the field to dip under 70 in both rounds – is Oosthuizen and the South African birdied No15 and completed those last four holes (15-18) one-under. And, with the field leaking shots in those holes, this is where the popular local made huge strides up the leaderboard.
Oosthuizen’s problem hole has been No8, which he has three-putted both days and played in three-over par. His fans, and there will be plenty of them this weekend, will be holding their collective breath when he tees off on the stroke one on Saturday, but surely lightning won’t strike three times on the same hole.
After the first day the South African had said that if he was four behind going into Sunday’s final round he’d be happy. So far he is ahead of schedule and he has his game face on, and he knows as much as everyone that the key to success on this course is keeping the ball in play and in the right position and having to take your poison when it’s dished out.
Westwood, a ripe 45-year-old hoping to roll back the years, was full value after his round. ‘I love coming here. How many places can you go to and see an elephant when you’re standing on the tee,’ he asked. ‘But you have to be able to eliminate a few variable. The wind can change a few times on each shot, the rough will punish anything wayward, the greens are tricky, there’s a lot of bounce, there’s the altitude and the heat. The more of those you can eliminate the better you’ll do,’ he suggested.
In other words, this is a tough golf course that will challenge the very best.
Defending champion Branden Grace was critical of his caddie Zach Mashego after a round of 71 left him on 141 and six shots off the lead, blaming him for some ‘bad calls’ when it came to the wind and club selection. It showed that as experienced as a player-caddie combination can be, so much can go wrong with each shot.
At this stage there will be many betting on Oosthuizen to close out the deal this weekend. His philosophy will be more of the same and stay in the zone that he’s able to get into. Equally impressive in the second round was Dylan Frittelli and for the second successive day he finished the day in style with a birdie at 18.
That 18th has played a signficant part of the NGC storyline already in the first two days. That suggests that more drama on the closing hole is still to come.
Cruel game 😱 pic.twitter.com/PTi7Gl7XSI
— Compleat Golfer (@CompleatGolfer) November 9, 2018