Big moves at Sun City
Birdie, bogey, hiss miss, hiss miss, two macs and a Dufner
SATURDAY is generally known as “moving day” in the world’s big golf tournaments but in the Nedbank Golf Challenge Friday – yesterday in this case – saw a good deal of movement as well as a good deal of drama.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme Mcdowell moved swiftly up the leaderboard with birdies at six of the last 10 holes he played to post a 67.
This gives him the halfway lead on seven-under-par 137, one clear of England’s Lee Westwood, Sweden’s Robert Karlsson, Germany’s Martin Kaymer and American Jason Dufner, the latter two moving into contention with 68s.
But South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, who shared the first round lead on 68 with Westwood, moved sharply backwards yesterday with a 74 and he now lies 10th on twounder-par 142.
And Open champion Darren Clarke moved up and down like a yoyo in the last 10 holes he played – going birdie, birdie, double- bogey, birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, bogey, double-bogey, birdie.
Not a par in there. All that added up to a 69 after his disappointing opening 74 and he is at 143, six off the pace and still in with a slim chance.
In fact, between Clarke and fellow Ulsterman Mcdowell they shared 13 birdies in the last 10 holes.
“For me the first nine was calm and quiet and the back nine pretty exciting,” said 2010 US Open Mcdowell who, remarkably, had what he described as “basically an air shot” (meaning he missed the ball) on his way to a double-seven, in between all the birdies, at the par-5 14th.
“I tugged my drive into the bush and my ball ended up on a rock,” he explained.
“At my first attempt the club kind of hit the rock and bounced over the ball which didn’t go anywhere.”
That was a blow, but he quickly bounced back with birdies at the par3 16th and par-4 18th, two tough holes.
If landing on a rock was a bit of bad luck, things evened out because he enjoyed good fortune at the par-4 eighth hole where he also tugged his drive and, initially dismayed at seeing his ball heading towards the hazard, saw it hit a tree and bounce back onto the fairway. Oh the joys of a lucky break in golf !
“It’s such a bunched leaderboard so it’s anybody’s tournament and I’m going to have to keep focused. I also want to be competitive as possible because next week it’s the European Tour’s very important end-of-season Dubai World Championship and this week’s a kind of warm up for that,” said Mcdowell who made his Sun City debut this week instead of defending his title in Tiger Woods’ own tournament, the Chevron World Challenge in California.
And he’s glad he chose to play in what he described as Africa’s Major.
“The golf course is unbelievably good and the crowds have been fantastic. I’m a bit surprised seven under is leading and not something lower because the greens are so pure.
“On the other hand, there’s a lot of trouble around and there were some really tight pins today.”
Dufner, deadpan on the golf course but animated in the media centre after his round, played the last 10 holes in four under to move up the leaderboard. He also turned down an invitation to the Chevron and this is his first trip to Africa.
“This tournament is a first-class one, one of the best if not the best I’ve played all year,” he said.
“Looking at the winners down the years, it’s like a Who’s Who of golf. And with no one running away with it this year, we’re in for a very interesting weekend.”
A Mozambique spitting cobra emerged from the dense undergrowth for a bit of sun in the open at the eighth hole early in the second round, prompting officials to divert the gallery well clear of its path, although Schwartzel got “bitten” there a little later in the day when he carved his drive into the bush and lost a ball, leading to a double-bogey six on a frustrating day for him.
Korea’s Kim Kyung-tae and England’s Simon Dyson are three off the lead on 140, with world No 1 Luke Donald and Dane Anders Hansen on 141, Schwartzel on 142, Clarke at 143 and Francesco Molinari propping up the field on 149.
BASHING ALONG: Half-way leader Northern Ireland’s Graeme Mcdowell plays out of a bunker on the 14th at Sun City yesterday.