Clarke heads day one field at Nedbank

BY | Southern Africa Tour | 2005 Nedbank Golf Challenge | Round One | 02 Dec 2005
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Darren Clarke and Jim Furyk, the only two players who did not drop a shot to par, were the pace-setters after round one of the 25th Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City on Wednesday.

Clarke posted a five-under-par 67 to stand one stroke clear of Furyk, on 68, with defending champion Retief Goosen, debutante Luke Donald and South Africa’s Tim Clark another two shots back on 70.

Clarke, buoyed by the fact that his wife, Heather, who has been waging a battle against cancer, is with him at Sun City, played a beautifully controlled round of five birdies and 13 pars and he and Furyk were the only players who seemed to be untouched by difficult conditions.

Soaking overnight rain meant tricky, sticky lies on closely-cropped fairways and all the players struggled to pick the right lines on the greens; tending to over-borrow.

Clarke, whose last competitive action saw him retain his title in the Taiheiyo Masters in Japan, however was serenity itself – going to the turn in 33 with birdies at the third, eighth (two of the hardest par fours on the course) and the ninth and adding two more (at the 13th and 14th) to be home in 34.

Furyk, equally unflustered, powered through the backnine in four-under 32, the best homeward run by two strokes, after stringing together nine successive pars to the turn. He then birdied the 10th and 11th and the long 14th before signing off with a birdie three at the 18th.

Significantly there was one other birdie at the 18th – by Retief Goosen. The defending champion is battling with a recalcitrant driver and seemed displeased with most of his swings as he picked his way around the course… but still returned a two-under 70 and that birdie three at the last could well prove to be crucial come Sunday’s sunset.

The other two men hard in the chase, although just nine strokes separate number one from number 12 (Kenny Perry on 76), are similar in that they give away a bit off the tee but make up for it with deadly accurate mid- and short-iron games.

Tim Clark is clearly a man in form and Luke Donald seemed unaffected by the raucous atmosphere of his first Nedbank Challenge.

Clark had the misfortune of having to take a penalty drop in the bunker at the 18th, a design and preparation flaw that should be fixed, but more than held his own on a course that is unlikely to yield a “lights-out” round.

Donald, on his first visit to these parts, showed why he is so highly rated by none other than Jack Nicklaus. He possesses a wonderfully balanced swing, of which the tempo never changes, and is so accurate off the tee that a 70 (35, 35) was just about the worst score he could have returned.

The other important number was 17 – the par four looping around the lake that provided a watery grave for Chris DiMarco, Adam Scott and Kenny Perry who all ran up two-over 6s.

DiMarco and Scott were right in the running when they dumped their second shots into the water while Perry’s mishap ballooned his score to 76 and made him the back marker in the field – and, conversely, none would have been more happy at these travails than Gary Player to see such proof that his efforts to toughen up the course have worked.

Ernie Els, in his first competitive round since injuring his knee in July, admitted to being extremely nervous on the first tee and then dodged a bullet at the second when he carved his drive way right into what looked like a part of darkest Africa.

Els, who decided to hit a provisional, however found his ball in a clearing and then had another stroke of good luck when was given a free line-of-sight drop from a television tower; enabling him to hack his ball back onto cut grass, deposit his third on the green and hole the putt for a birdie four.

Els was clearly not sharp, although there was no sign of a limp, and salvaged his round by chipping in for a birdie at the 15th and holing a substantial putt for a birdie three at the 17th – quite a swing of fortune on a hole that played to an average of well over par.

Source – Nedbank Golf Challenge
Photo – Anthony Powter

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