Dec 6 (Reuters) - Ernie Els led a brief tribute to Nelson Mandela as play continued as scheduled at the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in South Africa on Friday, one day after the death of the former South African president.
Els paid his respects ahead of the resumption of the first round, halted by thunderstorms on Thursday, as a moment of silence was observed before play resumed at the Gary Player Country Club.
"It is a very sad day," Els said. "We have lost one of the iconic leaders of our time. You cannot say anything bad about the man. He fought for what he believed in, went to prison for so many years and came out to lead our country up until now.
"Every time I won a tournament he used to call me.
"I remember flying to London on one occasion. We were sitting up front and then Mr Mandela came onto the plane last.
"He was sitting in the front seat and he saw me and my daughter sitting next to me and all of a sudden he didn't really want to see me anymore - he wanted to talk to my daughter.
"He got Samantha to go up there and she sat on his lap and he spoke to her like she was his grandchild. They were special times and the little time we had together was very special. He was just the most amazing person I have ever met.
"Today will be tough. He was our President and the man who changed our lives. It could have been so different in South Africa but he kept his head and kept everyone going forward."
Live television coverage of the tournament, the highlight of the South African golfing calendar, was marked by sombre commentary and regular references to Mandela's death on Thursday at the age of 95. (Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by John O'Brien)