Silly stats in Durban
The rain-affected Nelson Mandela Championship presented by ISPS Handa has essentially been reduced to 36 holes, which is the minimum number of holes for a result to be declared under European Tour regulations. It thus makes it a rather unusual tournament.
But indeed it is the shortening of the golf course to a par-65 that will be giving statisticians endless headaches. On a course with four consecutive par-threes on the back nine and just one par-five out of 18, the unusual is inevitable, and day one didn’t fail to deliver.
Co-leader Tim Clark made three twos in a row on the back nine (his front nine) en route to an enormously flattering gross score of 60.
He wasn’t the only one to fire this score though. European Tour rookie Morten Orum Madsen matched him on 60 with a round that also included three twos, although not consecutive.
Branden Grace might have a case for claiming that his 60 at Kingsbarns in October was a better round.
The reduced rating for the course was always likely to have a concertina effect on the leaderboard, but it happened in the extreme on day one.
By the conclusion of play, an astonishing 30 players were within three strokes of the lead going into the final day’s play - no doubt allowing the bookies to be slightly extravagant in the odds they are to offer on the eventual winner.
In the 156-man field, the two highest scores recorded were seven-over-par rounds – seemingly ordinary. The unfortunate part for this unwitting duo was that their scores were a respectable-looking 72! Hardly a result synonymous with finding oneself in last place.
The par-31 back nine offered up some friendly scores too. Some eleven players posted sub-30 scores for nine holes, the lowest of which came from the blades of Steve Webster and Madsen, who each carded an impressive-looking 27.
Others like Lindani Ndwandwe chose to do it the hard way, as his 29 came on the par-34 front nine, rather than his 10 other comrades who did it on the back.
The odds on a hole-in-one were as short as 7/1 at the Nedbank Golf Challenge with twenty golfers playing four par-threes. One fancies they’ll be a touch shorter with 156 men assaulting eight par-threes for two days in this tournament.
The goalkeepers at each short hole managed to keep everyone out yesterday, but if ever a player was looking for a day to break his ace duck, today must surely present the most golden of opportunities.
One last thing – with no cut we find ourselves with 156 players contesting on the final day, split into a morning and afternoon field without seeding. This means that those in contention who post a good score in the morning may have to wait an awfully long time to find out their fate.
Yesterday the first group finished up shortly before 10:30am, while the last group sauntered in just before 6:00pm.
This means some poor soul may well have to practise his putting for the best part of eight hours as he waits to find out if there may be a playoff - an agonising prospect, given the €158 500 (approximately R1.77 million) first prize payout and the list of exemptions on the line.
It’s been an interesting tournament, but these statistics and facts will ultimately mean very little in the long run.
Players will take equal pleasure from victory and proportional disappointment from defeat. But, at the very least, every one of them can take heart from the fact that their tour stroke averages will improve.