One shot separates the leading three golfers heading into the final round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, writes GARY LEMKE.
On a course as testing as the Gary Player Country Club that one shot can disappear in a heartbeat. They call it ‘Africa’s Major’ and like every Major the tournament only really gets going on the back nine on a Sunday. So, if you’re not coming along to Sun City, then get your popcorn and settle in front of the TV for a drama-filled afternoon.
Holes 14, 15 and 16 on Saturday were perfect examples of what to expect. The final threeball out on the course – which will be the same on Sunday – were Zander Lombard, Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Detry, who, we must be reminded, was in a tie for third heading into the final round here last year, so he knows this course well.
While both South Africans made birdies at the 550m 14th hole, a par five that was playing the fourth easiest on the day, Detry hit his drive into the bush on the left and had to reload. Again he found trouble and settled for a seven – a four-shot turnaround on that hole.
However, at No 15 he and Lombard both made birdies while Oosthuizen had a bogey – the pendulum swinging back two shots. And again on the short 16th where Lombard made bogey, Oosthuizen par and Detry birdies. To cap it all, the Belgian bogeyed the final hole, too.
It’s a course where the golfer has to stay patient, which is easier said than done. The fluttering of flags around the course play havoc with the player’s mind because conditions are invariably different, gusty and difficult to read when the ball goes airborne. Like any Major, nerves are going to be jangling – even if it’s because there is $2.5 million for the winner, which amounts to some R36 million. Lombard says that he’s ‘trying not to think about the prize money’, along with a victory that would open a lot of doors for the 24-year-old.
Oosthuizen doesn’t necessarily need the cash, but he is desperate to lift the NGC trophy for the first time. He will be a wildly popular winner should he manage to finish the job that he seemed to start so well in doing with that opening 63 on Thursday. Since then he has been a touch off colour, overcoming kidney stones notwithstanding, as he tries to get himself into birdie territory when it comes to the putts.
Lombard understands that you can’t be too aggressive on this golf course, and living a couple of kilometres away means it feels like ‘home from home’. He knows that you need to stay on the fairways and keep the ball in play. It sounds a simple enough strategy but he has the length off the tee to also go for it when required.
The Gary Player Country Club reminds me of the approach to be taken at Augusta National when it comes to the Masters. You can’t attack the flag on many of the holes, because you’ll pay the price for doing so on greens that are getting increasingly firmer under sunny skies. Iron play is paramount around here and that’s where Oosthuizen’s game has been struggling for the last 36 holes after that opening 63.
It’s all about strategy and staying patient and not panicking when the bogeys start appearing on your card. The certainty is that there are birdies out there but you have to take your medicine as well. Sunday’s final round is going to have plenty of twists and turns and unlike the Rugby World Cup final, the engraver is going to have to wait until the final putt drops before he starts to etch out the name of the 2019 champion.