Henrik Stenson showed his mettle on Friday when he blitzed the back nine of the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City to ease into the halfway lead of the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The 2008 champion had made three consecutive bogeys ahead of the turn, cancelling out his good start of three birdies in the first five holes, but after a two-hour and 10-minute weather delay as an electrical storm raged overhead seemed to charge him up, and he made five birdies on his homeward journey to card a 67 for a one-stroke edge over Jaco van Zyl.
“I just tried to stay patient and get round, and I’ve done that pretty well so far,” said Stenson, who thought he might not even start the tournament because of a bout of flu.
“I’m getting over the virus, but I was more fatigued this morning than I was yesterday just because of playing yesterday. It takes a lot out of you playing in 35 to 40 degrees Celsius when you’re not physically well.
I’m heading in the right direction, but I’m not getting a chance to rest up much. Tomorrow I’ll probably have very heavy legs again, but being in the hunt for a tournament should get me going and hopefully that will kick-start it tomorrow.”
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Van Zyl was always in the lead until Stenson edged clear of him with a birdie on 17, and, playing in the same group as the Swede certainly motivated him. “It felt a little like a duel between me and Henrik,” he said.
“I looked at the leaderboard and I think we were two or three clear of the rest of the field. It’s always good fun, especially if you’re in the same group. You can kind of keep an eye on each other. There’s good reason why he’s No 7 in the world, looking at the putts he made coming in.”
One stroke behind Van Zyl in third on nine-under-par at halfway was American Robert Streb, who had the round of the day with his six-under-par 66 – and that was achieved despite consecutive bogeys on 16 and 17 – and they came after a run of three consecutive birdies.
And in fourth, Australian Marc Leishman carded his second consecutive four-under-par 68 to keep himself very much in contention at the conclusion of what has been a good year for him.
It’s all setting up for a good weekend, and Stenson, for one, is looking forward to it. “It’s a course that suits my game, I’ve always enjoyed playing here and the fans are very appreciative as well,” he said.
“I would’ve felt really bad if I hadn’t been able to play as I’ve had some messages from South Africans saying they’re coming to watch me play. I couldn’t defend the SA Open in 2013 due to my wrist, so it would’ve been hard not to play. It was nice to get some support, even though most of them are supporting Jaco in the final group.”
Van Zyl is up for it too. “It’s always nice playing in front of your home crowd and it makes it even more special being in such a big event. I’m really looking forward to the next two days,” he said.
© Sunshine Tour