Rose, Immelman hit the front at Sun City
BY iseekgolf.com | Southern Africa Tour | 2007 Nedbank Golf Challenge | Round Two | 01 Dec 2007
Trevor Immelman and Justin Rose, a pair of 27-year-olds who have been rivals since they were teenagers, hit the front at the halfway stage of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City on Friday.
Thirty-six holes into the tournament the pair were on 133 (11-under-par) and three clear of the next man, Ernie Els, in their quest for the $1,2-million bonanza that awaits the winner of an event that perhaps quite aptly is celebrating its 27th year of existence.
In what may end up being billed as golf’s answer to the Rugby World Cup Final, South Africa’s Immelman has thus far carded rounds of 67 and 66 and England’s Rose scores of 68 and 65 to build a handy advantage going into the final two rounds over the weekend.
On a course rendered distinctly more user-friendly after soaking rains, making the greens softer and more receptive to pin-seeking iron shots, Els added a 67 to his opening 69 to be on 136 (eight under) with Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (who matched Rose’s 65), Adam Scott and Luke Donald – dropping down the leaderboard a shot at a time – making up the chasers as the field heads into the home straight.
Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy at two-under 142 is the only other man under par with the by-now traditional top-half and bottom-half split leaving the like of Rory Sabbatini (level-par 144), Retief Goosen (one over), Stewart Cink (one over), Niclas Fasth (two over) and Charl Schwartzel (four over) with probably too much to do.
Immelman and Rose have been matching shots for a decade – ever since, as 17-year-olds, they won through the qualifying tournament to take part in the South African Open championship at Glendower in 1997 – the year in which Vijay Singh triumphed.
It was obvious then that the pair of youngsters had a big future in their chosen sport and 10 years on they have fulfilled that early promise. They are both multi-millionaires, they have shown that they can take on all-comers and win and they are ready to ascend to that elevated base camp when a good career becomes a great one.
And while the Nedbank Challenge may be a limited-field event the pressures, given the crowds, the difficulty of the golf course and the intense television scrutiny, are not dissimilar to a major and it would be a considerable achievement for either Immelman or Rose to face down the like of Els, Goosen and Ogilvy – the three players in the field who have won a major – or two, or three!
Both have played outstandingly to climb to the top of the leaderboard – matching birdie threes at the 18th on Friday evening neatly capping some excellent shot-making.
Immelman made just two mistakes – a tentative putt at the third and an off-line drive at the 15th – and it cost him two strokes to par but Rose has managed to play 36 holes over Gary Player’s layout without dropping a single shot.
The Englishman has driven the ball beautifully but the truth is he would not have been able to keep a bogey off his card but for an outstanding short game – especially the way he has knocked in those knee-knockers from a metre-and-a-half.
Immelman has “owned” the front nine – building his overall score by playing this stretch in six under 30 and four under 32 – while Rose on Friday had six threes in his card in compiling a backnine of five under 31 – giving an indication of the kind of round that might be possible if the course stays soft and friendly.
Els, breaking in a new set of irons, has not looked entirely settled but it is a measure of his quality as a player and his instinctive knowledge of the course that he has returned rounds of 69 and 67.
Els gave away a single shot – at his bogey hole the 17th – and birdied only one of the four par fives which shows what he is capable of given that Immelman and Rose each birdied three of them and Henrik Stenson birdied all four.
It was a impediment acknowledge by Els afterwards: “I do not want to push too hard, but I need to try and putt for some eagles on these fives and get something going. I need a special couple of holes to happen for me to get myself right into it.”
No Nedbank Challenge would be complete without someone adding to the legend of the 9th hole and on Friday it was the turn of another 27-year-old, Adam Scott.
The Australian was locked in a tight battle with Immelman that threw up a pair of birdie threes at the 8th, historically the most difficult hole, when he dumped his second in the drink at the tricky par five – resulting in a three-shot swing as Immelman, who laid up for two, made a pitch-and-putt birdie and Scott ran up a bogey six.
There is only one other place where water comes into play for players of this class and Scott managed to find it again – trying for too much out of the cloying kikuyi and finding the corner of the lake at the 17th en route to a double bogey six.
Henrik Stenson has been to the city of the sun once before – last year when he finished second two strokes behind Jim Furyk. Expertly guided by his caddie Fanny Sunneson’s intimate knowledge of the course his 65 was his best score yet – seven birdies and no drops – and there is no doubt that his game is ideally suited to the course.
Immelman and Rose will play together in Saturday’s third round and one of the enticing aspects of the day is to see to what extent the two tall long-hitters, Els and Stenson, playing just ahead of them will be able to make the running and transmit the pressure back down the fairway and how well the younger men will cope.