Westwood the man to beat at Nedbank

BY iseekgolf.com | Southern Africa Tour | 2004 Nedbank Golf Challenge | Round Three | 05 Dec 2004
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Westwood took a one-stroke lead after the third round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Saturday as Gary Player’s version of purgatory continued to goad a dozen of the world’s best golfers.

Westwood managed to advance his total to just five under for three rounds – at the same juncture last year Sergio Garcia was 12 under – to lead by a single shot from Retief Goosen with overnight leader Stuart Appleby another step back and five other players, Chris DiMarco, Nick Price, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els and Todd Hamilton still in the running.

And, to judge by the sweat-streaked, stricken looks on the faces of the players as the fiery rays of the sun shimmered off the fairways, a reference to hell on earth was not out of place. Well, after a fashion! When you’re playing for a prize fund of $4,060,000, a first prize cheque of $1.2 million and last place of $155,000 a little discomfort is probably not out of order.

And that is exactly what course designer Gary Player would tell the lords of the links of the revamped layout that bears his name.

Player was of the opinion that his course, and the one that bears the tag of No1 in South Africa, had become too easy and resented scores of 14 under (2003), 21 under (2002), 20 under (2001), 20 under (2000) and 25 under (the record set by Els in 1999) that in the last few years had been required to emerge victorious.

His persuasion was heeded by Sun International executives and the upshot was some new back tees, making the Gary Player Country Club one of the longest layouts anywhere in the world, deeper bunkers and much firmer greens.

And it is the latter characteristic, more than any other, that has exasperated the players as they have been unable to attack the holes with high shots accompanied by plenty of backspin. Finding it hard to stop the ball they have either found that they have run through into scruffy lies or been faced with putts requiring more lagging than attacking.

Westwood, who lost at the second hole of a sudden-death play-off to Ernie Els in 2000, had three fine shots, all at the 14th, to thank for his slender lead.

The Englishman, who has also won the Dimension Data Pro-am title over these manicured fairways, hit a drive and soaring three-wood approach, which plopped down on a nice piece of soft kikuyu fringe at the par five, and then holed his putt from 2.5 metres for an eagle three.

Westwood had made what seemed to be a disastrous start but with Australia’s Stuart Appleby losing his touch on the greens the eagle he landed put him in front. He even managed to survive an embarrassing fluffed chip on the 15th as he completed a 71 to go with his opening pair of 70s.

Duffed chips do not feature in the repertoire of Retief Goosen.

South Africa’s reigning US Open champion must surely rival Phil Mickelson as the finest chipper and pitcher of the ball. His ability to get the ball up-and-down out of a variety of lies and from any number of awkward positions has been astounding, accounting for his elevated position on the leaderboard even though he, by his own admission, has hit the ball “all over the park.”

After putting beautifully in the first two rounds Appleby struggled to find the pace of the greens on Saturday and a spate of three-putts stripped him of the momentum provided by some astonishingly long drives.

Chris DiMarco was one of those off the radar of television spotters before he surreptitiously crept up with a closing nine of three-under 33 (the best of the day) to complete a 69 – one of only three sub-70 scores thus far – while Ernie Els, who just could not get going, and Nick Price relied on their local knowledge to stay in the running – along with Jim Furyk.

Yes, Jim Furyk. Starting the day 11 strokes off the pace he is now just five behind so how does one fit him into this tale of misery?

The answer is with difficulty because Furyk seemed to be playing a different course in different conditions as he returned a six-under 66!

The American, who had been nominated by most experts as being too short off the tee to cope with the monster in the African bush, made eight birdies, four on each nine, interspersed with two dropped shots (including a six at the 14th) as he skipped up the field from ninth to joint sixth and a spot in one of the back two-balls.

Furyk proved that the course is not the impossible puzzle that it seems, showing that Sunday’s winner may well be the man who gets out fast and posts a good score while the men at the back are watching each other.

South African fans would like nothing better than if that hot score came from Ernie Els or Nick Price as they strive to become the first men to win the Nedbank Challenge for a fourth time.

Source – Nedbank Challenge

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