Sun City - South African Open champion and Nedbank Golf Challenge rookie Richard Sterne may have fired a promising 68 in Wednesday’s pro-am, but he still expects his first NGC round at the Gary Player Country Club to be ‘nerve-wracking’.
Sterne, who is one of only three South Africans in this year’s field, will tee off in the first pairing on Thursday. He’ll play alongside Australia’s Robert Allenby.
“I used to come here and watch all the time when I was younger,” said Sterne. “I saw David Frost beating Jose Maria Olazabal, Ernie Els's wins and a lot of other highlights, so this is a big occasion for me. The first few holes will be quite nerve-wracking, but hopefully I’ll get into it and put on a good show.
“All the top South Africans have won this tournament so hopefully I can have a chance come Sunday.”
Sterne, who has had a quiet season since winning the Alfred Dunhill Championship and SA Open last December, added that he expects some ‘fun’ golf thanks to the course being set up with less punishing rough this year.
“The course is in great condition but it’s definitely not as tough as they always set it up. The rough is not there, which is nice. So I expect the scoring to probably be a bit better. It should make for interesting golf, and make it a bit more fun.
“Guys won’t need to slug it out as much as usual, where you miss the fairway and you’re chipping it out all the time. I think that’s a good way to play this tournament, especially as it’s played towards the end of the year.”
Defending champion Henrik Stenson agreed that the scoring would be lower this year, saying that some of the holes would be a little more tempting for the long hitters to have a big swing off the tee. Stenson only used driver twice in the whole of last year’s event, which he won at a canter by nine strokes, with a 21-under-par score of 267.
“I might bring the driver out on a few occasions this year,” said Stenson. “But for me it still feels like there are quite a lot of three-woods off the tees just to put yourself in position.”
“The course is quite a lot different because the rough is down. The wind can still swirl and play some tricks, but other than that I would expect the scoring to be a bit better given that the rough is not as severe as it was.”
Sterne’s 68 in the pro-am was bettered only by American Hunter Mahan and Briton Ross Fisher, both of whom fired 67. The other South African, Retief Goosen, did not return his score after the pro-am, as was the case with defending champion Henrik Stenson and his fellow Swede Robert Karlsson.
Sterne and Allenby will get the 29th edition of the NGC underway at 11:10 on Thursday morning.
67 – Hunter Mahan, Ross Fisher
68 – Richard Sterne, Robert Allenby
69 – Angel Cabrera, Rory McIlroy
71 – Nick Watney
72 – Luke Donald
79 – Tim Clark
No score – Robert Karlsson, Henrik Stenson, Retief Goosen