Singh and Perry head day one field at Nedbank

BY | Southern Africa Tour | 2003 Nedbank Golf Challenge | Round One | 28 Nov 2003
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Old man par took an outrageous beating with the field a collective 67 under par in the first round of the 2003 Nedbank Golf Challenge over the Gary Player Country Club course at Sun City.

Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry each carded seven-under-par 65s to lead a group of four, Adam Scott, Robert Allenby, Darren Clarke and Chris DiMarco, by a single stroke and two more, Jerry Kelly and Stuart Appleby, by two to spearhead what was the greatest day of scoring in the 23-year history of the tournament.

In 2000 Lee Westwood and Jose-Maria Olazabal returned 65s to lead in the first round but the other scores were not remotely as low as the staggering numbers returned on Thursday.

Any doubt that modern-day professionals play a game with which we are not familiar, to paraphrase Bobby Jones on Jack Nicklaus, were erased as DiMarco fired a seven under 29 on the backnine and both Singh and Perry went to the turn in five-under 31s.

Expectations that the course might play harder because of changes brought about at the second, fifth and the 17th and because overnight rain would have made the fairways play longer were invalidated almost as soon as the field of 18, the biggest yet to take part in the tournament, started their rounds.

The damp fairways meant that the ball tended to stick where it pitched, rather than bouncing into the rough, and the softer greens meant the players were able to fire straight at the flags.

With the greens not as fiery as they have been in the past but exceptionally true the players were able to roll in putt after putt in an exhibition that must have had course designer Gary Player wondering what he will have to do to prevent South Africa’s No1 course from continuing to be ripped apart.

Afterwards all the players conceded that conditions had been forgiving, with Singh pointing out that pin placements had been quite generous, but spectators nevertheless witnessed an exceptional exhibition of skill – the perfect compliment to a course in excellent condition.

In the light of the blaze of red numbers, indicating scores under par, on every leaderboard defending champion Ernie Els would have been all the more disappointed at his stuttering display.

Missing a pitch-and-putt birdie at the second seemed to knock Els off kilter and pushed him into defensive mode as a bad tee-shot and a penalty drop caused to him to forfeit a shot at the third and another went astray when he put his second into the right-hand bunker at the 4th.

After that Els would pull back to level par with a pair of birdies at the par five 9th and 10th but he let the shots slip away by again carding back-to-back drop-shots at the 11th and 12th before hauling himself back to level par with birdies at the 14th and 15th.

It represented the first time in 30 rounds, dating back to 1995, that Els failed to break par over the Gary Player course. Els will now have the unprecedented experience of going from last off on Day One to first off on Day Two.

But while South Africa’s favourite golfer struggled to find his rhythm Perry, but for one false drive at the 15th, and Singh, who did not drop a shot, gave as fine a display of target golf as you will ever see.

Staggeringly the assault on par could have been even more comprehensive had not both Appleby and Kelly dropped shots on the 18th that cost them the chance of swelling the group on 66 to six although, it must be said, Perry, Singh, Scott and Clarke all birdied the last holes.

On a day that only six in the field of 18 failed to break 70 DiMarco, who finished third in his Sun City debut last year, had the most adventurous of rounds.

When he double-bogeyed the notoriously difficult 8th hole DiMarco was two over par and not too pleased with himself. But on the long walk to the 9th tee he resolved to try to birdie the two par-fives through the loop but instead proceeded to real of an amazing stretch of golf in which he made eight birdies in the next 10 holes.

It was that kind of day. Tim Clark made five birdies in a row from the 7th while four players, Leaney, Allenby, Scott and Clarke, had nines of 32 to go with the ultra low scoring of Perry, Singh and DiMarco.

Allenby hatched a pair of eagles with a long putt at the second and a chip-in at the 14th – having reached the green of what most amateurs consider to be one of the longest holes in the country with an iron!

In addition the new 17th green, which now juts into the lake on the left, proved to hold little fears for players of this standard – yielding four birdies and not a single dropped shot.

Staggeringly, given the birdies that were flying around, Singh complained afterwards that organisers had erred in not instituting the lift-clean-and-place rule to compensate for mud sticking to the ball.

Source – Nedbank Golf Challenge

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