Nienaber, Macnab a fierce force at Curro SAJI
Free State’s Wilco Nienaber fired a five-under-par 67 in round two to take a three-shot lead in the 106-strong Boys Competition at the Curro South African Juniors International (SAJI), while fellow South African Caitlyn Macnab edged out Australia’s Jihye Park to keep the overnight lead in the 42-strong Girls Competition on day two of the Global Golf Junior Tour event at Durbanville Golf Club on Wednesday.
It was a fine morning’s work for Bloemfontein’s Nienaber in far windier conditions than the previous day. The 16-year-old generates tremendous club-head speed and hits it a land-mile. For those spectators that watched Nienaber go about his business, it was an absolute treat.
At a Ping testing, the country’s seventh-ranked junior was ranked second to American Bubba Watson in this area of the game. To hit a ball over 350m is out of the reach for most teenagers, but Nienaber showed off his length when he played the four par fives in five under, including an eagle at the 11th hole. When he made mistakes, such as the bogeys at four and 18, he just buried the setback and re-focuses on the next shot.
“It’s always a big thrill when you make an eagle,” said Nienaber. “I found the fairway off the tee on 11 and had 190 metres to the pin. I smashed a four-iron into the wind to just off the green and then holed my chip shot.
“You want to take advantage of the par fives and to bag three more birdies definitely lifted the spirits. I hit 15 greens in regulation, which was another big plus. It’s a pity that the putter wasn’t hot, because I could have gone lower. My aim in the final round will be the same; accuracy with the driver and putt for as many birdies as possible. If it plays out that way, my chances of winning will be pretty good.”
Defending champion Garrick Higgo from Boland remains in the hunt after a 71 left him three shots off the pace. The De Zalze Golf Club member endured a bit of a nightmare in the afternoon session making a triple bogey and two double bogeys to go with five birdies and an eagle.
“I felt I played well, but the luck element deserted me,” Higgo said. “Making a six on a par three hurts big time and dropping two shots on two par four isn’t going to win you anything. But I rebounded well and I am still in with a chance of defending my title. I played the practice round with Wilco and he hits it 50 metres past me. At the last hole, he was pin-high with his driver and that hole plays 355 metres. He is definitely the guy to beat.”
Western Provinces’ Luca Filippi carded a 70 to finish in third, five strokes behind Nienaber, while overnight leader Alexandre Lasalarie was left with work to do after a second round 75. The Frenchman is tied for fourth Jayden Schaper from Ekurhuleni, who returned a 70.
Serengeti Golf and Wildlife Estate’s Macnab continued to lead the charge through 36 holes and is the only player under par at one under 143.
While she could only manage a three-over 75, which was seven shots shy of her 68 on day one, her lead over a thinning chasing pack is a healthy three shots.
The 15-year-old has never won a tournament before. “A big day tomorrow for sure,” Macnab said.
“To be leading is an amazing experience and hard to describe. Plenty of butterflies right now. I’m going to focus on my game and not get sucked into a match-play mind-set.
“As for my round, it was full of ups-and-downs. I was a bit flustered before teeing off due to an interview catching me off-guard. I ended up bombing my tee shot at the first but managed to save par. Not the best front-nine and I was five-over-par walking to the 10th. I re-grouped well and hit some great drives. The best one was on 13 where the ball landed on the green and I holed the 20-metre putt for eagle two. Being three-over early on set me back, but I held on to the lead.”
Defending champion Woo Ju-Son cut a dejected figure after her round of one-over 71 left her in a share of second place with one-time leader Jihye Park of Australia.
“It wasn’t my day,” Son said. “I made too many bogeys and didn’t get any rhythm going. But that’s golf. I’m still in second place and there are still another 18 holes to play. The three-club wind today never bothered me, but my shot-making was poor. I ended up with five bogeys and four birdies. So if I can get a run going my chances improve significantly.”
Park felt that she had an “okay” round.
“My tee shots were better but my putting below average and my chipping let me down,” said the Australian. “I didn’t play the short holes well, I never found the greens and made three bogeys, not to mention dropping a shot on 18. But I did make four birdies to ease the pain. I still feel I can win the tournament if I play to my full potential. I came to SA to win after all.”
Written by Mike du Bruyn and Lali Stander.
Released by Lali Stander on behalf of Golf RSA, a SAGA and WGSA Not-For-Profit company.
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