Austrian Bernd Wiesberger birdied the final hole to snatch a one-stroke lead with a five-under-par 67 on day one of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City on Thursday. Wiesberger’s birdie saw him break clear of four players Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, Scotland’s Scott Jamieson, American Julian Suri and local South African hero Branden Grace who are all tied for second after rounds of 68.
Defending champion Alex Noren of Sweden capped his round with an eagle at the par-five 10th, but had to settle for a four-way share of sixth on three-under after a bogey on the 17th green. Wiesberger, 32, captured a fourth European Tour title with victory in the Shenzhen International in April and returned to China to secure a share of ninth at the WGC–HSBC Champions in Shanghai two weeks ago.
But the world number 37 arrived in South Africa for the penultimate tournament of the season after finishing down in 48th place at last week’s Turkish Airlines Open. “I played well in Shanghai and it was conditions that I kind of prefer but then last week in Turkey I couldn’t quite keep up with the pace,” he said.
“Last week was a course where you need to make a lot more birdies and I didn’t quite do that last week so it got a bit frustrating. “I just tried to clear my mind and was ready to go this week. I had a lot of rest time. “I just tried to focus on the time when I was working on my game and not get too much into the heat and conserve energy for the four days out here, and it kind of paid off today for me.”
Dubuisson teed-up lying 73rd in the Race to Dubai standings and needs to be inside the top 60 at the end of the tournament to reach next week’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. And the enigmatic 27-year-old is confident, having shared third place in last year’s Nedbank Challenge.
“I’ve been very good with my driver as I didn’t miss many fairways, maybe one or two, and that is the key to play well,” he said. “I was third here a year ago so I really like this course. It suits my long game very well. I also feel very comfortable on the greens. “My goal this week is really to qualify for Dubai so it’s a good way to start the tournament.”
Grace was two-over after back-to-back bogeys at three and four, before he regrouped superbly to play holes seven to 15 in six-under par, including an eagle at the 14th. “This is a grinder’s golf course and it’s one of those where you have to be aggressive when you can, and when you don’t have to, you don’t have to and it is why I like this golf course,” said Grace, who has won three of his seven European Tour titles in South Africa.
“This is the type of grass that I grew up playing, Kikuyu, and I just have fond memories of it. I’ve had a lot of wins on grass like this and courses like this. “It also feels nice to be able to finish the day off with a good round and looking forward to the next couple days.”
Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood has his work cut out if he is to significantly extend his advantage over the absent Justin Rose, after signing for a one-over-par 73