The Springboks had their ‘Bomb Squad’ and Zander Lombard proved to be SA’s golfing equivalent, as he powered his way to a two-shot lead.
Lombard, making his NGC debut but no stranger to Sun City as he lives nearby, found himself in a threeball with three-time champions Ernie Els and Lee Westwood but after a nervous start where he dropped a shot at the opening hole, he blasted his way to the top of the leaderboard on 133.
‘Zander’s 65 today was a lot better than my 63 yesterday,’ said Louis Oosthuizen who added a level par 72 to sit in second position on 135, himself two shots clear of playing partner Thomas Detry who dropped three strokes on the closing two holes.
Lombard arrived at the Gary Player Country Club ranked 234th in the world but the 24-year-old didn’t look out of place alongside Els and Westwood, the defending champion. ‘The round is definitely up there with my best. Obviously the nerves were out there the first few holes, but I settled quite quickly, and with Ernie and Lee being lovely gents, we had an awesome time out there. From there it was just all positives and really enjoyed today,’ he said.
‘The crowds were at their max and all into it. They were cheering and they were fantastic. They were cheering for Ernie and Lee at the start, but I won them over at the end, so it was awesome.’
An example of this came on the par five 10th hole, which came at a time of day when those crowds had managed to get stuck into the beers on another hot day in the Pilanesberg valley. ‘Get in the hole,’ one mug shouted while Lombard was addressing his eagle putt. But guess what? The putt dropped for a three.
He followed with a brave birdie putt down the hill at the par four 11th to tie for the lead. Standing on the tee at the par three 12th hole, playing every centimetre of its 200m with the wind about, Lombard pulled a 6-iron. ‘The Rock!’ one wag shouted, loudly explaining to his mate that Lombard is built like Dwayne Johnson, while a forlorn marshal help up his ‘Quiet Please’ board. The South African was unmoved, struck his ball sweetly and made par.
While Lombard came home in 31, his playing partners did so in 35 (Westwood) and 38 (Els). Oosthuizen, in the threeball behind came home in 36, as did Detry. The halfway leader put his approach down to being ‘aggressive’.
‘My caddie did a wonderful job. We were fighting for a birdie every hole. That attitude just showed on 18, as well, a 5-iron from 215 (metres) to nine-foot, and unluckily I didn’t make the putt, but my mind-set I was being aggressive and being positive. It just went my way today.’
Whether that aggression pays dividends in Saturday’s third round remains to be seen. Oosthuizen felt that the ‘wind was all over the place. You could throw the wind chart away, it was a case of guessing the whole day. I had no idea on the tee, or on the second shot. The conditions were tough. I wasn’t really on song, I told (caddie) Greg, “just get around this golf course in one piece”. Hopefully this was my bad round for the week. With the pins creeping in, the weekend will be a proper test. I got really tired the last five. six holes and made mental mistakes on (holes) 14 and 15.’
What did the new overnight leader think of the wind? ‘For me it was a bit easier. Yesterday (Thursday) the wind was really blustering all over the place and today seemed to be more the normal wind that we’re used to and I could trust my distances a bit more and it paid off. I’m really happy with the day.’
How can two golfers of the calibre of Lombard and Oosthuizen have such different views of the wind? Easy. That’s one of the unique challenges of Gary Player Country Club, which builds you up only to take you down.