Four share first Challenge lead

2004-12-02 17:24
Sun City - On Wednesday Ernie Els said four rounds below 70 should be good enough to win this year's Nedbank Golf Challenge.

His prediction looks to be right on target with four golfers, with two-under par 68s, shared the lead after the opening round played at the par-72, 7 162m, Gary Player Country Club layout here on Thursday.

Els, fellow South African Retief Goosen, Australian Stuart Appleby and

Englishman Lee Westwood all shared a rollercoaster ride of birdies and bogeys to hold a narrow lead.

One shot back

Just one shot back are Zimbabwean Nick Price and American Chris DiMarco with compatriots Jim Furyk and Todd Hamilton both at two-over after shooting 74.

Sergio Garcia of Spain had a poor start to the defence of his title with a three-over 75, a round shared by Swede Fredrik Jacobson and American Jay Haas, while Chad Campbell, also of the US, had a most inauspicious introduction to the Sun City course, shooting an eight-over 80.

'Best I could have done'

Reflecting on his round, Els believed his 70 was "probably the best I could have done today".

"This is a different golf course now and that was proved today. We played off the back tees, some of which I had never seen before, and the flags were tight.

"They've definitely put some teeth into this golf course," said Els.

"But I like it," he added. "I like a tough test and this is definitely just that."

Els nervous at start

Els admitted he was nervous at the start. "I felt the same way today as when I played here in 1992.

He lobbed his tee shot to the right on the opening hole but made a great save for par. But he bogeyed the par-four third and dropped another shot at the eighth, also a par-four.

But then the "Big Easy" found his form and picked up a shot at the par-five ninth, even though he pulled his tee shot a little.

Five-foot putt for birdie

With 202m to the green and some trees blocking his path, Els played his second to the edge of the green and a wedge left him with a five-foot putt for birdie.

He turned one-over but then birdies 10, 14 and 16 to come back in 33 and finish two-under for the day.

"I've had a good start and now I just have to keep getting better and better."

The man who will be kicking himself is Appleby. He managed the only eagle of the day, and when a driver and three wood left allowed him to sink a 20-footer for his eagle, the Australian moved to four-under for the day.

But he opted to take on the two most dangerous holes on the course - 17 and 18 - and he paid the price. Two bogeys saw him slip back to join the other trio on 70.

Goosen, however, played his best golf on those two closing holes and claimed two birdies which allowed him to join the others at the top.

After beginning with two birdies Goosen says he lost concentration, which resulted in drops on hole three, five and six.

He then birdied nine to turn all square and then hung in until the last two holes.

Westwood round also fluctuated

Westwood too had fluctuating round. Birdies on two and seven were offset by bogeys on eight and nine for him to turn at level par.

He then held the outright lead for a while with birdie on nine and 10 but fell back after a bogey on 14.

The Englishman pulled off a miraculous save at 17 after landing himself in all sorts of trouble off the tee and then managed a 10-footer for birdie at 18.

Price looked out of it after turning at three over but he played a flawless back nine, with birdies on 10, 11, 14 and 16, proving that you can never count him out.

Friday could be equally as testing as temperatures in the mid 30s are predicted.

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