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20th July 2023

Seasoned Hugo leads at SunBet Challenge

PORT EDWARD, KwaZulu-Natal – Tackling the Wild Coast Sun Country Club in the SunBet Challenge Wild Coast over the last two days has been a bit like Squid Game, and we’re not talking about the molluscs that are much-beloved of fishermen and women as they scour the seas off Port Edward, but the South Korean TV survival drama that took the world by storm in 2021.

But veteran Sunshine Tour campaigner Jean Hugo has seen it all before on this challenging, enigmatic course, and the tremendous four-under-par 66 he posted in the first round was enough to give him the lead on Thursday, and it was a mark none of the golfers who began their second rounds were able to pass.

Danie van Tonder, who had reached the turn in his second round in one-under, to go to two-under-par overall, and Jaco van Zyl, who shot a 68 in the first round but also did not get back on the course on Thursday, are the closest to Hugo. They are experienced golfers both, also able to handle the very windy conditions.

But Hugo is right at home on the Wild Coast, having won the Nashua Masters here in 2007, and the last of his 21 professional victories came here in the 2019 Sun Wild Coast Challenge.

“It was tough, play being called off on the first day because it was too windy and balls were moving. It always feels like the wind is up here. But I know what to expect and I had a good result last time here,” Hugo said.

The 47-year-old was on one-under-par through 11 holes when play was suspended on the first day. When he returned on Thursday morning, he could not have wished for a better start, with an eagle on the par-five 12th.

“You normally try to capitalise on the downwind holes here, but 12 was a daunting hole because that side of the course is into the south-wester, which makes it tough. Normally you hit iron and iron over the hill, but today I hit Driver just to get it into play and then three-wood around the corner, a very good shot that went 10 feet behind the hole and I made the putt. So that was an absolutely dream start and then I had a good finish with birdies on the manageable 16th and 18th holes,” Hugo said.

If one is going to get skinned alive by a course, experience does at least allow one to know what to expect. But Hugo said he cannot just rely on his course knowledge as the 54-hole event comes to an end, his game has to be absolutely on-point in the last two rounds.

“The wind is also going to be up on Friday, but in the other direction, so it will probably be tougher. A lot can still change with the scores so I’ll need a good solid start, that makes it easier to maintain things. I’m preparing for a mixed bag tomorrow.

“It’s good to have experience around here, but you still have to play well. You can know where to hit it, but it does not help if you can’t hit the ball there. You still have to bring your best game.

“You need to focus on where to go because looking around, there are a lot of hazards out there. I’ll just be trying to keep it tight,” Hugo said.