Good day for 'nervous' Els

2004-12-03 08:41
Sun City - South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, England's Lee Westwood and Stuart Appleby of Australia held the lead on two-under-par 70 after the opening day of the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Thursday.

The field was making heavy weather of it at the Gary Player Country Club course as it was the first time in the 24-year history of this tournament, unofficially known as "Africa's Major", that no-one player managed to break 70 in the first round.

"It wasn't easy out there and it's because the course is so much tougher after the changes they made this year," said Els, referring to the fact that several deep, strategically placed bunkers have been added to the layout, and new back tees installed which stretches the course to a back-breaking 7 162m.

This is over 200m longer than Whistling Straits, the venue for this year's US PGA Championship, which was the longest course in Major championship history.

"Besides being long, the greens were firm today (Thursday) and not holding, they tucked some of the flags into the corners of the clover-leafs so you couldn't fire at the pins, and there was a tricky wind blowing," said US Open champion Goosen, who birdied the first two holes and the last two.

"A fast start and a fast finish although I lost concentration in between," is how he summed up his round.

"Still, 70's a good score and I was particularly pleased because I've got a bad cold and didn't feel too well."

Aiming for record win

World No 3 Els, a three-time Major winner, sank a 20-footer for par at the opening hole which he said settled the nerves.

"Yes, I still get nervous even after all these years on tour," he admitted - and paved the way for what he said was a good day at the office.

Els is attempting to win this tournament for a record fourth time after victories in 1999, 2000 and 2002.

Westwood knocked in a 20-footer at 17 to avert a bogey and then hit a drive and a six-iron over the water at the treacherous par-four 18th to five feet and rolled that in for a closing birdie three.

"I was last here three years ago and the course is now two to two and a half shots more difficult," he said.

Appleby got it to four under with four holes to go after hitting two superb shots into the heart of the green at the 550m par-five 14th, and sinking the putt for an eagle three.

But he finished poorly, with bogeys at 17 and 18 to surrender the outright lead.

Defending champion Sergio Garcia laboured in the searing heat, making the turn in level par but stumbling on the back nine with three bogeys on his way to a 75.

American Chad Campbell, making his debut in this tournament, had a triple-bogey seven at the eight and a double-bogey at the 18th on his way to 80, the third worst round in the history of the tournament. First prize here is $1.2m, making it one of the richest tournaments in the world.

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