Following the conclusion of round one of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, WADE PRETORIUS picks out the winners and losers at the Gary Player Country Club.
Winner: Louis Oosthuizen
Remarkable performance by Louis. A bogey-free 63 on a course that demands every bit of respect you have and then you have to factor in that he spent Wednesday in a local hospital with kidney stones. From someone who suffers from them, I can tell you it can be excruciatingly painful. Oosthuizen, who was wielding the putter with authority all day, said after his round that he slowed his tempo and reaped the rewards. Last year, he enjoyed the wonderful partisan support but failed to deliver. If he suffers no ill-effects of his medical condition going forward, then you’d be hard-pressed to imagine anyone else lifting the crystal ball aloft on Sunday. A win also moves the South African to second in the Race to Dubai with only one event to play.
Winner: Ernie Els
A bogey-free 68 on his return to Sun City should be applauded. Els is an icon of the game and deserves every bit of praise and affirmation he gets on his world travels. To have him back at the venue where he dominated for a few years is special and it was pleasing to see how the local fans greeted him on the first tee and then continued to cheer him on around his day’s work. Els is one of a kind and at 50, we should all be taking in all that he has to offer. Nothing lasts forever, but in competitive golf ‘The Big Easy’ has. And he’s one of our own.
Winner: NGC 2019
Also one of our own is ‘Africa’s Major’. It’s a stunning week’s worth of golf on one of the world’s most iconic courses. Each hole has something special in it whether it be a demanding tee shot or pins tucked away in the clovers. The undulating greens are made treacherous with the speeds the greenkeeper is ability to generate. But the tournament is much more than just great golfers on a fantastic course. The facilities are some of the best in the country and the activations around the course are enough to entertain the entire family. With Oosthuizen, Els, Branden Grace and the rest of the new wave of local talent on display, the fairways should be packed to capacity. How often in the past, have fickle fans moaned about the best Saffas not returning? There is enough foreign quality in the field to nudge you into your car en route to Sun City too. Sure, it’s not the heavyweights of yesteryear but such is the competition for events on the worldwide calendar, it’s this sublime event or bust. Without fans flocking to Sun City, sponsors would question their motive for throwing the millions of dollars behind the event. That begs the question, why are you not attending ‘Africa’s Major’?
Notable mentions: Thomas Detry, Lee Westwood, Guido Migliozzi
Loser: The group at +2
Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ryan Fox and Saffas Branden Grace – the 2017 winner here – and Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Such is the demanding nature of the course and the distance to the challengers, you get the feeling that it will take a few minor miracles to see any of these names on the first page of the board in three days time. Only seven players are behind them and there’s an awfully long way up to look to Oosthuizen. Golf is a cruel game.
Loser: European Tour ‘Final Series’
Three (Rolex Series) events and three rich purses but the tour’s best are not all in attendance. The European Tour bumped the rewards of winning in Turkey, South Africa and Dubai greatly but still not enough. They won’t but really should take the bold step of not allowing players to skip any of the three if they are to be eligible for the bonus money on offer. Yes, it’s been a long year but this is the grand finish and you can’t have someone not playing all three going on to take home all the loot. If you want it, then play three weeks in a row for it. It’s hardly cruel punishment.
Loser: Lucas Bjerregaard
Four over at the turn, one birdie all day … followed by an eight on the par 5 second and eventually signing for a 81. 18 shots off the pace and a no-cut event. Lovely.
Notable mentions: Robert Macintyre, Matt Wallace