Ernie's 'Good, Bad and Ugly'

2005-12-01 17:59
Sun City - Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke played a flawless round of golf to earn a narrow one-shot lead after the opening day of the Nedbank Golf Challenge played at the par-72 Gary Player Country Club on Thursday.

Clarke fired a five-under-par 67 to lead by one shot from American Jim Furyk, while defending champion Retief Goosen, South African Tim Clark and England's Luke Donald all finished on two-under 70s to lie three off the pace.

Argentina's Angel Cabrera shot a one-under 70 while local hopeful Ernie Els, playing his first tournament in five months, Australian Adam Scott and American Chris DiMarco all finished the day on level par.

The three back markers are Stewart Cink (73), Sergio Garcia (74) and Kenny Perry (76).

Despite the difficulty of the course, both Clarke and Furyk managed to survive the day without dropping any shots. Clarke birdied holes three, eight and nine to turn in 33 and then picked up shots at 13 and 14.

Furyk went out in level par 36 and then had the best back nine of the day with birdies at 10, 11, 14, and 18 to come home in 32.

"I played pretty nicely today," admitted Clarke. "I made very few mistakes and I'm pretty pleased with a 67."

Reputed to be the toughest

The par-four third and eighth holes are reputed to be the toughest on the golf course and Clarke managed to birdie both of those. On three he hit a three-wood and an eight-iron to around 20 feet and dropped the putt while on eight he hit driver, nine-iron to around 16 feet and holed out from there.

"I tried hard to stay on the fairway from off the tee and on both those holes I hit two good tee shots. There's no real let up on any of the holes and the pin placing were all incredibly tough. You just have to go out there with a game plan and stick to it," said Clarke, who won a tournament in Japan last month.

Defending champion Goosen said he was happy with his two-under for the round. "I didn't really expect a lot today with the way I've been driving the ball. Strangely enough I did that quite well but it was my chipping and putting that let me down.

"I think I left four shots out on the greens today." Goosen was just unable to get away on Thursday. Every time he picked up a shot, he let it drop a few holes later. It was not until he birdied 15 and 18 that the South African was able to leave par behind him.

"I've been working hard with my caddie Colin Byrne. We seem to have found the cure, now it's just a question of going onto the course and believing in it.

Still three rounds to go

"There are still three rounds to go so the trick now is to play steady and be close to the lead come Sunday."

Els admitted to being anxious about this opening round - his first since knee surgery in July. "I'm relieved to have got it out of the way and now that it's gone and dusted, I can look forward to doing better."

Els was certainly erratic on Thursday, and described his round as "the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"

He began with a bogey on one and picked up a lucky birdie on two after he was given relief because a TV tower was in his line of site after his tee shot went way into the rough.

"I've been many places on this course before but I've never been where my ball landed on that shot. It was a lucky birdie but on this course, you take whatever you can get."

He then bogeyed seven, birdied 15 after chipping in from off the green, birdied the difficult 17th and then bogeyed 18 after a wayward tee shot left him with a tricky second shot.

"It was a strange round. I hit some good crisp iron shots and drove some of the balls half decent. But I know I can definitely play better than this.

"It was an awkward round but at least I didn't blow myself out of the tournament. The good news is that my knee stood up very well today.

South Africa's Clark expressed his satisfaction with his round. "I thought that at two-under I would be in the middle of the pack but I am in joint third which is fine. I didn't hit too many bad shots today so I'm pretty happy with the round."

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