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Golf | SA

Colin Nel © Gallo Images

Dare to dream, Colin

Rain disruptions have wreaked havoc with the inaugural edition of the Nelson Mandela Championship at Royal Durban, and with it looking likely that the tournament will be decided over just 36 holes, picking a winner has descended into something of a lottery.

But one thing this has done to make things very interesting is open up a world of opportunities to the lesser known players.

The ramifications of claiming a victory in an event co-sanctioned by the European Tour include a year’s exemption on the Tour, an invitation to the prestigious Volvo Golf Champions event next year, and, not least of all, a cheque for €158 500 – all rewards that are almost incomprehensible to the regular Sunshine Tour journeyman.

One such player who might fit into this category is KwaZulu-Natal local Colin Nel. The Maritzburg Golf Club professional currently lies 42nd on the 2012 Sunshine Tour Order of Merit, and his biggest pay-check to date was for R119 589 (a 14th-place finish at the 2010 SA Open Championship).

On Saturday, Nel fired what has proved to be a very competitive three-under par 62 in the opening round of the co-sanctioned event, and currently finds himself just two strokes off clubhouse-leader Tim Clark.

“I think 62 is my best ever round on the Tour, so I’ll take it,” Nel joked. “It was a good round, so I’m happy. I suppose it will look a bit strange when people see a 62 on the scorecard, but I’m very chuffed.”

“Obviously with four rounds, you’ve got a few rounds to catch up. When you only have two rounds, you want to attack, but also not too much because you don’t want to put yourself out of it,” he added.

With the wind gusting significantly stronger since lunch-time, the scores from the afternoon have largely failed to eclipse those of the morning field thus far, and at three-under, he’s anything but out of it. Furthermore, Nel has fond memories of the golf course, and believes local knowledge can give him an edge.

“I won the KZN Matchplay Championship here as a junior. It was a couple years ago now, so I guess I don’t really remember it that well. But I’ve always had fond memories of playing this course as a junior and in league golf, and I always enjoy coming down here,” Nel said.

“It’s a course that you’ve got to know off-hand, so I think the local boys will do well because they know a bit more about the course than the guys who haven’t played before,” he added.

Some may argue that the re-structuring of the golf course nullifies the advantage of course experience, but the 29 year-old will call on whatever he can when he steps onto the golf course tomorrow.

He certainly has a fine crop of golfers around him that he must overcome – not least of all the current leader Clark – if he is to even conceive the possibility of glory.

But a win tomorrow would have benefits of a seismic scale, and the likeable Nel may struggle to sleep easily tonight in the knowledge that victory would more than triple his current career prize money.

But he proved a fortnight ago at the Cape Town Open that he was it takes to hold it together down the stretch, and, while many would consider him a rank underdog for a win tomorrow, others might just dare him to dream.


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