Stenson takes early lead at Nedbank

BY iseekgolf.com | Southern Africa Tour | 2006 Nedbank Golf Challenge | General | 01 Dec 2006
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Henrik Stenson and Jim Furyk, the only players who did not drop a shot to par, ended up at the top of the leader board after the first round of the 2006 Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City on Thursday.

Stenson lived up to his reputation of being one of the longest hitters on any of the tours to birdie all four the par fives, plus the par four 15th, to post a five-under 67 and take a one-stroke lead over defending champion Furyk.

And while debutante Stenson gave a superb exhibition of modern power play Furyk ground out the kind of round that has become his trademark – hitting fairways, staying out of trouble and papering over the inevitable bad moments on a tough course with his exceptional short game.

On a good day for debutantes England’s David Howell returned a three-under 69, Charl Schwartzel a 70 and Trevor Immelman a 71.

Padraig Harrington, who set the early pace by playing the first nine in 32 before falling foul of mental errors on the backnine, was home in 69 while Retief Goosen signed for a 70 that looked, and probably felt, like a lot worse than that.

Stenson is something of a mystery man in South Africa, in spite of a world ranking of 12, and his master stroke had nothing to do with any of the clubs in his bag – instead it was the person carrying them, Fanny Sunneson.

Having lugged Nick Faldo’s golf bag around the Gary Player course on 10 occasions Sunneson knows the lay-out as well as most and she guided her Swedish compatriot expertly through the many pitfalls – especially with the way she clubbed him correctly to ensure that he hit the ball the right length or, important at Sun City, missed on the right side.

Stenson holds the distinction of having holed the putt that retained the Ryder Cup when he beat Vaughn Taylor 4 and 3 and on the evidence of his first appearance in Africa looks a cool customer possessed of a game tailor made for the course.

What will be interesting, in Friday’s second round, is how he copes with Furyk pace of play – or to put that more clearly the American’s lack of it.

Painstaking is a word that suits Furyk to a tee and one did get the impression that Goosen’s battle to find his rhythm in the opening round had a little to do with having to continually wait around for the world’s No2 to make up his mind.

Harrington, fresh from the considerable feat of having beaten Tiger Woods in a play-off in the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan, seemed to be running away with it when he got to five under after 10 holes.

Two pars brought him to the par-five 14th looking for his sixth birdie but he inexplicably made a succession of errors of judgment to hand back two shots.

The Irishman went with a 3-wood off the tee, which seemed strange, and then took the same club again to have a go at the green from quite far back – stranger still. His second shot came up short in the waste bunker and, even worse, plopped into the matted pampas grass, or “love grass” as Gary Player named it all those years ago.

Harrington was forced to take a penalty drop, on his way to dropping a shot, and then at the par four 15th he erred on the other end of the scale – this time sending his second shot ripping through the net wrapped around the stand at the back of the green.

Harrington was lucky enough to get a free drop – for some reason there appeared to be no drop zone – but when he failed to pitch-and-putt for par he had opened the door for Stenson and Furyk to slip by.

Opening the door was not the appropriate word for Ernie Els – more like smashing it off its hinges!

Els carries the burden of being the crowd’s favourite but hopes that a new putter would cause the holes to get in the way of his ball seemed to be evaporating as he missed at least six birdies by millimeters on his way to eight straight opening pars.

But then the whole mood at Sun City lifted as he put his second onto the 9th and two-putted for his first birdie. Another followed at the 10th, then one at the par-four 13th and then a big three-wood approach at the 14th made it four birdies in six holes.

But elation in golf can often be a trap – three traps in fact.

Els put his drive in the fairway bunker on the 15th on route to dropping his first shot of the day and then he tugged his approach at the short 16th way left of the flag; the ball adding insult to injury by plugging in the new bunker sand.

Els’s next swing barely got the ball out of the hazard and a pitch and two putts later he had an ugly double bogey five on his card.

The “Big Easy” was by now the “Big Ruffled” and when he put his three-wood tee-shot at the difficult 17th into the fairway bunker he probably caused sharp intakes of breath all over the country as he angrily hurled the offending club away; just missing his caddie Ricci Roberts.

Els was breathing fire and, in fact, was lucky not to have messed up even more when he amazingly went for the green from the deep bunker on the 17th. Fortunately for him his ball came up just short of the water and he was able to pitch to the rock-hard green, which is likely to cause some heartache as the week wears on, and get away with a one-over five.

On level par 72 Els is only five shots adrift but he’ll have to find a way of getting his putts in if he hopes to challenge.

Ten of the players returned rounds of par or better with Colin Montgomerie (75) and Chris DiMarco (74) sitting at the bottom of the field.

Source – Nedbank Challenge




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