Garcia tops star field at Nedbank Challenge

BY | Southern Africa Tour | 2003 Nedbank Golf Challenge | Round Three | 30 Nov 2003
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Sergio Garcia emulated Kenny Perry the evening before by holing his final putt for a birdie on the 18th green to take a one-stroke lead after the third round of the 2003 Nedbank Golf Challenge over the Gary Player CC course at Sun City.

Garcia produced a hot backnine to overtake playing partner and faltering overnight leader Perry while his swinging birdie putt on the last put him a stroke clear of Retief Goosen, the man making up for defending champion Ernie Els’s indifferent form.

Garcia, with the last round to come on Sunday, is on 12 under 204; Goosen is on 11 under 205 and Perry on 10 under 206. The three of them will be in the last three-ball due to tee off at 11.40 on Sunday.

Vijay Singh is four behind on eight under 208 with Jerry Kelly and Stephen Kelly, six behind on six under 210, still in the running given that when Garcia became the youngest Nedbank Challenge champion two years ago he made up six shots in the final round – albeit by shooting a 63.

Whether it was the “El Nino” effect of the “Boma blow-out” is difficult to tell, but after the savaging the course took in the first round on Thursday it played, on Saturday, as though it were set up for a US Open.

On day one the field was a collective 67 strokes under par while on Friday, with five players returning over-par scores, that number was cut down to just 14 under. On Saturday, however, the field of 18 was collectively six over par with as many as 10 players carding scores higher than the par of 72.

“El Nino,” of course, is Garcia’s nickname and refers to a global weather pattern. On Saturday this was represented by swirling, tricky breezes which had the effect of introducing players to the dense bush and thick kikuyu grass that surrounds all Sun City’s fairways.

In addition, thanks to the bright African sun that shone unimpeded all day, the greens were harder and faster, the fairways more bouncy and birdies as hard come by as the right numbers in Sun City’s casino.

But the blame for the gods of golf suddenly beginning to look all to human could well have had another source – the “bushveld Boma” bash that has become a tradition on Friday nights. Certainly, you would have to ask what went down under the stars of an African night because come the next morning there was a decidedly hungover feel about the golf – not the least because a hangdog Ernie Els was out of contention.

Garcia, still only 23 but already a multi-millionaire, looked out of sorts in going to the turn in one-over but he sprang into life by playing the backnine in three-under 33 – including the three at the last that gave him the lead.

After a long year struggling with his swing Garcia, who suffered a last-round collapse in Japan the week ahead of the Nedbank to allow Thomas Bjorn through to victory, was clearly revelling in being in contention; hitting the ball miles and going for his putts.

Conversely Perry did not put a foot wrong until he made his first mistake at the short 12th. Whether the long day of stifling heat had finally brought to bear the full effect of high altitude one would not know, but Perry hit iron shots too long at 12, 13 and 15 and dropped three quick shots to allow the chasing pack back into range after at one stage being four shots clear.

Goosen, who admitted on Friday evening that he had come within a whisker of withdrawing from the tournament because of a lingering cold, kept plugging away to return a best-of-the-day 68 that many of the punters at the tournament had taken a wager on.

Goosen battled a reverse pivot in the first round on Thursday but his swing has got gradually better and by the time he hit the backnine on Saturday he was, in the patois of the pros, “striping” the ball.

When he became the youngest winner of the old “Million Dollar” in 2001, at age 21, Garcia charged through the field with a fabulous nine-under 63 before beating Ernie Els in a play-off and Sunday’s last round will show whether he can win from the front and slay the demons that have temporarily shackled his career.

Golf, however, is the most unpredictable of games – as it was so succinctly put by Kenny Perry after Friday’s second round. “Golf is a fleeting game, you can only try and control it, you can never contain it.”

Control… that will be the key as the leaders chase a first prize of $1.2 million on Sunday.

Source – Nedbank Golf Challenge

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