SUN CITY, North-West – It took a little while for Rourke van der Spuy to warm up, but he was loving the greens on the back nine as he shot a one-under-par 71 on Thursday to claim a one-stroke lead after the second round of the SunBet Challenge hosted by Sun City at Gary Player Country Club.
The 32-year-old Van der Spuy will be heading into Friday’s final round on five-under-par for the tournament, one clear of a strong quartet of contenders in Hennie Otto (69), Louis de Jager (68), Callum Mowat (73) and Kyle Barker (70).
Van der Spuy went into the second round in second place, one shot behind Mowat, and, teeing off at 8am, he made seven straight pars before a double-bogey at the par-four eighth was a frustrating blow.
“The big thing about teeing off early in the morning at Sun City is the considerable temperature difference compared to later in the day,” Van der Spuy said.
“The sun rises at 7am but it only really gets warm around 9-10 o’clock. It just takes a while for the body to warm up and get loose, and of course the ball goes much further when it’s warmer.
“So it’s just a case of getting through the first nine holes and I was just pleased to be bogey-free after seven holes, but then the double-bogey six was a punch in the gut,” Van der Spuy said.
But as the sun rose above the Pilanesberg mountains and warmed both the course and the competitors, the Durban-born golfer warmed to his task with back-to-back birdies around the turn and then two more sandwiching a bogey at the 15th.
“I was very happy to recover with those two birdies straight after the double-drop and I was definitely more comfortable on the back nine,” Van der Spuy said.
“It was also a good day on the greens, I converted a few outside chances to keep the round going. Credit to my caddy, Jacob Lekgotho, who I called in three times on the back nine and he was spot-on with his lines.
“Jakes has been the caddy master at Sun City so he’s as comfortable around Gary Player Country Club as I am and those putts were real momentum-keepers,” Van der Spuy said.
The Durban Country Club representative won on his rookie year on tour at the 2015 Fish River Sun Challenge and then again, three years later, at the Mopani Redpath Zambia Open. But as surely as the years have passed, so too has Van der Spuy’s game evolved and he said the final round will be about setting and achieving a target he and his coach set for himself.
“We will see how everyone finishes and then create a game-plan from there. The key is we will be looking at a score and not the rest of the field.
“It’s been an 18-month process and it’s something I now trust to get the job done in a final round. As you mature and go through the ups-and-downs of a golf career, your game evolves as you do as a person.
“I’m definitely a different player now than I was when I won those tournaments three years apart. But I trust the golfer I am,” Van der Spuy said.
The experienced duo of Otto and De Jager were both in fine form on Thursday, having 11 birdies between them, and they will surely put Van der Spuy to the test in Friday’s final round.