Appleby maintains lead at Nedbank Challenge

BY | Southern Africa Tour | 2004 Nedbank Golf Challenge | Round Two | 04 Dec 2004

Australia’s Stuart Appleby, after a tough day in the trenches for the field, held a one-shot lead after the second round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club on Friday.

Appleby, wielding a hot putter and chipping deftly, returned the first (and only) sub-70 round of the week – a three-under-par 69 – to edge a single stroke clear of Lee Westwood with Retief Goosen and Nick Price another shot back in joint third place.

These four were the only players under par – Ernie Els was at level par 144 – as a significantly toughened-up course wreaked havoc with the equilibrium of some of the world’s best golfers.

Whereas par-busting had become the norm in recent years the dropped shot, sorry, make that the multiple dropped shot, has ruled supreme in the 24th version of an event that has become a South African institution.

Gary Player had wanted to test the players in their quest for the $1,2-million winner’s cheque but instead he has succeeded in terrorising some of them.

At times it appeared as though the organisers might have to mobilise Sun City’s emergency rescue services to rush to the aid of stricken players – including Els – as the course became a disaster zone.

The day produced two triple bogeys (an eight by Fredrik Jacobson at the 10th and a seven by Els at the 11th), three double bogey sevens, any number of double drop sixes and quite a few ruinous bogey sixes as sizzling weather, hard greens, tricky winds, fiendish pin placements and tormenting drives conspired to exasperate some and bring others to their knees.

Els’ blow-out at the 11th provided the biggest shock as the big man had just birdied the 9th and 10th holes to pull himself back under par for the tournament when he stood on the tee surveying the donga and the glimpse of fairway disappearing at right-angles to the left.

The further left the tee-shot the shorter the approach but Els, who has been fighting a hook, got a bit greedy, bit off too much, and his ball clattered into the trees and bushes in what is deemed a water hazard.

He was forced to take a penalty drop on the ladies’ tee, only to draw a gasp of shock from his sizeable gallery by, now with an iron in his hands, repeating the error and again depositing his ball in the thick undergrowth.

This time, however, Els was able to hack out to the semi-rough before compounding his mistakes even more by coming up short in a bunker with his fifth shot. He got his ball on the green and then, perhaps importantly, holed a putt from all of three metres for his seven.

The triple bogey sent Els sliding down the leaderboard but such was the chaos breaking out at other parts of the course he would have been pleasantly surprised on Friday evening to discover that he is only five shots off the pace and, in the parlance of the pros, “right in the shooting match.”

Chris DiMarco and Nick Price had stunned the patrons on the Nedbank pavilion alongside the 9th hole by dumping their third shots in the pond and then Lee Westwood and Retief Goosen blacked out in similar, if unfamiliar, fashion as their rounds were drawing to a close at the 17th.

Westwood who, let’s not forget lost a play-off to Ernie Els for the Nedbank in 2000 and won the Dimension Data tournament over the Gary Player course, was tied for the lead with Appleby when he pulled out his sandwedge to negotiate the 107 metres he had left to the 17th – the tee having been moved forward to facilitate a pin placement close to the water.

The Englishman had been looking solid and in control but now he hit his shot, which was sitting up high in the semi-rough, high up on the clubface and watched the ball splash into the water short of the green. This meant he had to drop out in the drop zone and, after pitching on, two-putted for a six that could have been a three-shot swing had Appleby holed his birdie putt.

Goosen was now tied with Appleby but he too blinked at the 17th. Finding a matted lie in the rough to the left of the fairway, Goosen seemed to think his sandwedge shot would “jump” on him but instead the ball came out soft and plummeted to a watery grave at about the spot Westwood’s had splashed down.

The unflappable US Open champion, who had pitched and putted brilliantly to make a birdie at the 14th and save pars at the 15th and 16th, was, however, able to record his fourth successive single-putt green to card no more than a one-over and limit the damage.

His woes were not over though as he caught his approach to the 18th a little fat, causing his ball to come up well short of the flag. This time he was unable to keep his chip-and-putt routine going and another dropped shot – emulating Appleby’s finish on the first day and four shots worse than his own birdie, birdie finish in round one – dropped him two shots off the pace.

The statistics showed that the par-four 17th, in spite of playing so short off a forward tee, was the hardest hole on the course with the field returning an average score of 4,58 as the field fared even worse than the first day with an average score of 73,19.

The key to Appleby’s play was that he was able to pick his way through the debris with only one dropped shot on his card; ultimately giving him a five-under total of 139 after rounds of 70 and that solitary 69.

All the players made mistakes and eventually those who chipped and putted best were left atop the leaderboard.

Player has certainly achieved his aim of toughening up South Africa’s No1 course but it is debatable whether the holiday crowds at Sun City enjoy bogies more than birdies.

The third round is known by the pros as the “moving round” and with officials likely, in keeping with tradition, to set the lay-out up a little easier for Saturday there is still room for the like of Els, DiMarco and Hamilton to bounce back into contention although two key stats show Appleby and Westwood to be the men in form.

Westwood has recorded the most birdies with 11 while Appleby has the only eagle thus far (on Thursday at the 14th) and seven birdies, but most revealing is that the Australian has dropped the fewest shots – just four.

This may well turn out to be the key indicator in this year of Player punishment.

Source – Nedbank Challenge

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