Garcia retains Nedbank lead despite putting woes

Rory Mc Ilroy can still catch Francesco Molinari at the top of the Race to Dubai standings

Rory Mc Ilroy can still catch Francesco Molinari at the top of the Race to Dubai standings

Sergio Garcia birdied three of the last four holes on his way to a faultless opening round of 64 and a four-shot lead in the European Tour's Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City on Thursday.

The Englishman was seven shots off the pace after the opening day but briefly got within two of leader Sergio Garcia after getting to eight under through 14 holes of his second round.

South African Oosthuizen is his nearest challenger as he seeks a first win at a tournament he has long coveted, with Finland's Mikko Korhonen (70) three shots back.

Star attraction Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland could manage only a 71 at the Gary Player Country Club in northwestern South Africa, leaving him eight shots adrift of the 2017 Masters champion.

But an eagle on the 10th and birdies on 14 and 15 elevated the 2010 Open champion up the leaderboard on a hard day for scoring with a swirling breeze.

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"I actually played pretty nicely on the front nine but it was a bad, bad finish". I feel like I'm playing nicely, I'm just trying to hit the fairways and the irons feel pretty good. "It's a golf course that you need to be patient around".

"You have to play the wind as you feel it because it is so inconsistent". He was on the green in six and three-putted for a nine on the par 4.

The Spaniard, looking for back-to-back victories after triumphing at Valderrama, shot an eight-under-par first round to lead by four but goes into the weekend just one ahead of home favourite Louis Oosthuizen.

In short, it's a tall order and while the Co Down man produced some flashes of brilliance to get to three-under par with five holes to go, he played his last five holes in three-over as Garcia birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th.

In nine previous appearances at Sun City, 2011 Masters champion Schwartzel has had five top-10 finishes, including being runner-up to German Martin Kaymer in 2012.

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Li Haotong, who can also win the Race to Dubai at next week's Tour Championship, carded a 71.

McIlroy is nearly two million points behind Molinari and needs to win at least one of the remaining two events to overhaul the Italian, who enjoys a lead of just over one million points from Ryder Cup partner and defending champion Tommy Fleetwood.

"I have not been putting myself in positions off the tee to give myself chances with irons to get close enough to have a good look at birdies", he said.

McIlroy, ranked sixth in the world, said: "I need to tidy up my game off the tee".

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