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25th April 2024 | Big Easy Tour

Relentless Simon in pole position at Vusi Ngubeni

Soweto Country Club’s Thabang Simon said on Tuesday his goal was to win or place within the top 12 finishers in this week’s Altron Vusi Ngubeni Tournament at Huddle Park Golf and Recreation, and now, he has a shot at both.

Simon – who has been at the summit of the leaderboard since the beginning of this 72-hole event – brought a slim one-stroke lead in the third round on Thursday. He was 10-under and one clear of Richard Kruger and Adriel Poonan of Pretoria Golf Club.

Now, and after another solid showing, the veteran campaigner will take a two-shot lead into the final round thanks to a brilliant four-under-par 68 on day three. Now totalling 14-under for the week and two clear of Vulintaba Country Estate’s Slenda Sithebe, Simon is within reach of his targets.

“Today was also a good day,” he said. “I had a brilliant front nine; I was four-under at the turn. I hit the ball well and I putted well too. Even on the back nine where I made the two bogeys, I think I did well. I three-putted on both times. I missed a short birdie-putt on number 12 and I think that’s where the problem started.

“Then on 13, I hit it left of the flag and I just hit my first putt short and the second and then I made bogey. On 15, I hit it left and three-putted again. But at the end of the day, I played well again.”

“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 the mistakes and I am happy that I managed a bogey-free round. It was a good day of golf.”

The four birdies he made on the front were accompanied by another two on the homeward nine and those, as he said, were cancelled out by the drops he made on that stretch.

“Putting has been giving me a little problem because I have missed many short putts,” added Simon. “Now, I bring two putters to the golf course –a Scotty Cameron Newport 2 and a King Cobra. I use one on the practice green to try and remember my most comfortable grip and I use the other to play. It helps me.”

He knows what’s at stake this week and that the chasing players are very capable of overturning a two-shot lead. After firing in a third successive 68 this week for a total of 12-under, Sithebe is one such player. He reeled in three birdies and a pair of eagles but made three bogeys in what could have been a truly magnificent outing for him. He was pleased, however, with how he played and his position going into the final round.

“Everything is still going according to plan,” said Sithebe. “I want to give credit to my caddie; he was exceptional. I didn’t play the wind well yesterday but today, my caddie was on the spot with everything. We just trusted each other so much and even though I know I played well, I think most credit goes to him.

“He gave me the perfect numbers for the eagle on 16 and then the one on 18; my playing partner and I were on the same spot and I saw him roll his in. I saw the line and I didn’t waste any time and I just went for it too. But I know tomorrow will be a different day and I need to forget about the last three days and start afresh.

“It’s going to be tough but like I said, everything has been going well so far and I want to continue like this. There are top players coming for the top spot and all of us are hungry. So, it will be fun but it’s going to be tough too.”

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.