Stuart Appleby shares lead at Nedbank Challenge

BY | Southern Africa Tour | 2004 Nedbank Golf Challenge | Round One | 03 Dec 2004

On a day of wildly fluctuating fortunes four players, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Lee Westwood and Stuart Appleby, ended up on top of the leaderboard after the first day of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City on Thursday.

It was the first time in the 24-year history of the tournament that no sub-70 score was returned in the first round as the foursome of Els, Goosen, Westwood and Appleby each returned two-under-par 70s to lead by a single stroke from Chris DiMarco and Nick Price.

Gratifying course designer Gary Player’s desire to make his course tougher after recent festivals of par-bashing, it was only the third time in all the years that a round ended with no scores better than 70 – the others both being in the third round in 1986 and in 1989.

Thursday, however, did not produce the highest single-round average score – the 72.9 strokes recorded by the class of 2004 being surpassed by a horrendous tally of 74.2 run up by a field consisting of David Frost, Scott Hoch, Tim Simpson, Don Pooley, Chip Beck, Andy Bean, Sandy Lyle, Fulton Allem, Scott Simpson and Ken Green in 1989.

American debutante Chad Campbell did however suffer the ignominy of joining the “Snowman’s Club” by shooting an 80 – putting him alongside the like of Jerry Pate, Scott Simpson, Tim Simpson, Tommy Armour III, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam who have returned a score starting with the fat number 8.

Ironically Campbell’s woes began when he became yet another victim of the wicked 8th hole – always the hardest on the course – as he stumbled to a three-over 7 on a day that Fredrik Jacobson made a two-over six and the field were eight-over (DiMarco made the only birdie) in trying to come to terms with a back-tee that has been placed 15m further back.

A number of factors conspired to put the field off their collective stroke. Having struggled through a long pro-am day, the players were confronted by the usual sauna-like weather and a course that has undergone a character transformation since many of them last visited the Pilanesberg.

The Gary Player course has built up a tradition of being hard on newcomers, hence the battles of Campbell, Fredrik Jacobson and Todd Hamilton but the rest, with Price equalling the record of Bernhard Langer by making his 14th appearance and Ernie Els reaching number 13, were confounded by unrecognisable conditions.

Lush and soft fairways, after more early rain than usual, reined in the amount of run the players could expect to get while the kikuyu surrounds were again penal. The deeper bunkers were more punishing, the re-laid greens foreign and the pace and breaks players have come to know were no longer there.

The design changes, especially the new back tee at the 8th and the alterations to the 17th and 18th, have also made for many more dangerous areas of ensnarement.

This was particularly true of the finish, which Ernie Els had predicted would be tricky, as Australia’s Stuart Appleby imploded to forfeit what had been a two-shot lead two holes from home.

Appleby, after a perfect drawn drive over the water at the 17th, cast a nervous eye on the water to the left of the green and pushed his 8-iron approach into the bunker on the right. Whereas Els, with a sizeable putt, had got up and down from the same hazard Appleby did not and a shot was gone.

Still irritated he tugged his drive into deep grass on the left of the 18th, having used the driver that Player said he wanted back in the hands of the players, and after a penalty drop and a brave up-and-down out of the greenside bunker he had ran up another one-over and had to be satisfied with a share of the lead.

Contrast Appleby’s finish with that of Goosen. Whereas the Australian had played the last three holes in a total of 13 strokes, Goosen finished par three, birdie three, birdie three, showing that it is possible!, to put some gloss on what for him had been exasperating day after being the only player in the field to open up with two birdies.

Appleby, on the upside, had the satisfaction of carding the day’s only eagle after reaching the green of the long 14th with two massive hits.

Westwood, who incidentally sports the best stroke average (ahead of Garcia and Els) after his four appearances in the Nedbank Challenge, could have been out in front but for making a hash of two par fives – the 9th and 14th – running up sloppy sixes on holes the others were birdying.

Els, who was becoming distinctly sour at his inability to come to terms with the pace of the greens, was two over after eight but then cashed in on the par fives with birdies at the 9th, 10th and 14th and a nifty two from the fringe at the 16th to come home in 33 and join the lead.

Chris DiMarco was another who fought back after an indifferent start while Nick Price showed there is life in the old dog yet by making up for an outward nine of 39 with a homeward run of 32 – the best backnine of the day and one that included just nine putts – as the field was split neatly in two; six players under par and six players over.

Source – Nedbank Challenge
Photo – Anthony Powter/Snapeture Sports

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