Experience helps Simon retain top spot at Vusi Ngubeni

golf25 April 2024 08:00| © SuperSport
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Vusi Ngubeni © SuperSport

Thabang Simon rolled back the years on Wednesday, firing in a blemish-free five-under-par 67 in the second round of the Altron Vusi Ngubeni Tournament to total 10-under and maintain a one-stroke lead over Richard Kruger and Adriel Poonan.

The 49-year-old Soweto Country Club member, Simon, was among the three leading players at the end of the first round and on day two, he had only one thing in mind: keep the foot on the gas. He opened with a confidence-boosting birdie to get going. Four pars later, Simon made further gains as he birdied the par-five sixth and ninth holes to turn in 33 and bogey-free.

Coming home, and with the wind beginning to swirl a bit, Simon held his nerve. He made four straight pars before finding joy on 14, the third par-five hole here at Huddle Park Golf and Recreation, where he made birdie. Once again, and with pressure mounting, Simon showed experience as he stayed patient and kept the big numbers at bay. He would be rewarded with a birdie on the last to seal a second successive 67.

“I have been in the professional game for a long time, so I knew what I needed to do,” said Simon, alluding to how he kept his cool in the face of the mounting pressure. “Experience helps in these tournaments. I just tried to hit as many fairways as I could and avoid any trouble. I didn’t miss many greens because I was hitting it as well as I was yesterday.

“There is a feeling that I might have left a few out there but I can’t complain because I am still in contention. There is tough competition here but, as I said, I have played professional golf for a while and I know what to do and things not to do. Today, I tried to minimize on the mistakes and I am happy that I managed a bogey-free round. It was a good day of golf.”

Kruger carded a 68 to back up his opening round of 67 and get his total to nine-under for the week. Coming in with a 67 of his own was Pretoria Golf Club’s Poonan. His front nine was sublime and consisted of five birdies with no bogey on the scorecard. The first of his two bogeys on the day was on the par-three 13th but Poonan recovered with a birdie on the next hole. He birdied 16 but closed with an unwelcomed bogey on the 18th.

“I had a very nice front nine today; five-under and bogey-free,” noted Poonan. “The birdie on one was critical for me because you always want to have a good start. From there it was smooth sailing, really. But, honestly, I think walking the course during one of the practice rounds gave me a bit of an advantage because where I see guys hitting drivers on some holes, I don’t because I saw a few things when I was walking the course that I felt are not worth the risk.

“That approach has helped me in trying to keep it in play. So, I am very satisfied with the work I have done the last two days and with the position I’m in. It shows that I am playing good golf. I just want to keep it the same going into the last 36 holes; not change too many things and keep the same mentality. The pressure is always there but the key is to concentrate and stay focused. I will try to do that in the next two rounds.”

Taking the fourth spot on the leaderboard was Slenda Sithebe whose 68 took his total to eight-under for the tournament. Thanda Mavundla and Hayden Garcia share fifth on seven-under-par while Jabulane Mabilane of Mbombela Golf Club and Pilgrims Rest Golf Club’s Jastice Mashego share the seventh spot on six-under.

The top 12 finishers at the end of this qualifying school will earn Sunshine Tour cards for next season while the top 30 will get Altron Big Easy Tour cards.