If the winner of the Amateur Championship’s strokeplay is cursed when the format changes to matchplay, Wilco Nienaber didn’t show it.
The 18-year-old South African was two shots clear at eight-under after Monday and Tuesday’s first stage in Aberdeen.
And at Royal Aberdeen yesterday, after round one of matchplay pitted the highest 26 scorers left in the field against each other to get the draw down to 64 players, Nienaber entered at round two against Swede Niclas Weiland.
The Bloemfontein native swept past him 5&4, despite a headwind affecting both players on the front nine. Nienaber, runner-up in the Brabazon Trophy a few weeks ago, said: “A lot of guys just fall out (of the tournament once the matchplay starts).
“Some people say if you finish top, you’ll be starting the matchplay against the worst player. Most of the time I think the guy who finishes at the top falls out first, so I’m glad to be through.”
Despite the conditions being the opposite of Nienaber’s strokeplay 18 at Royal Aberdeen, where the players were going with the wind on the front nine, he still built a healthy lead by the turn, before birdies on 11 and 12 and pars on 13 and 14 closed out the match.
He said: “It was totally different, as the first nine played into the wind.
“It was really tough.
“I just tried to get to a score myself and I got to it by the turn – that was three up.
“Those were the only two birdies of the day as the front nine really played tough.”
Nienaber, who would be the first South African in more than 50 years to win the tournament if victorious this week, continued his quest for the Amateur against Switzerland’s Cohen Perry today, winning by one hole, and is currently playing Tom Sloman to reach tomorrow’s quarter-finals, which will be followed by the semis, also on Friday.
Balgownie will play host to the final over 36 holes on Saturday. The winner of the 123rd instalment of the famous competition earns a place at the Open Championship, as well as next year’s Masters and US Open.
The South Africans have been saying how much matchplay suits them and it’s showing at Royal Aberdeen, with five in the round three draw, including a clash between Jovan Rebula and Malcolm Mitchell, which Rebula won by one hole.
Nienaber said: “It’s nice to know I’ve got a chance. But it’s not just me, five of my South Africa team-mates have got a chance.
“So I’m not just thinking about myself, I’m happy for the whole team and we’ll see what happens.”