Ernie, Christiaan, Louis and Ashleigh fly the SA flag

Henry

The golf stars Ernie Els, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Louis de Jager and Ashleigh Buhai made the South African flag fly properly on Thursday with great performances worldwide.

The 54-year-old Els is only one stroke behind the leaders after the first round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Ka’upulehu-Kona in Hawaii.

Els finished his first day on the Hualalai course in 66 shots (-6) and holds the joint third position in the US series for seniors’ first tournament of the new golf year.

The four-time Major champion scored three birdies on the first nine and four more on the second nine, but unfortunately also one bogey.

Els shares third position with KJ Choi, Brett Quigley and Steve Stricker, last year’s champion.

Apart from his victory in Hawaii, Stricker had five other tournament victories last year.

They are chasing Fijian Vijay Singh and New Zealand’s Stephen Alker, who set the pace at -7 after the first of four rounds.

*In La Quinta in California, Bezuidenhout delivered one of his best performances yet in the American PGA series when he recorded a score of 63 (-9) in the first round of the American Express Championship.

However, it was only good enough for joint third after American Zach Johnson and Swede Alex Noren set the PGA West course on fire with scores of 62 (-10).

Bezuidenhout’s performance was flawless and the 29-year-old native of Delmas scored nine birdies on the first day without conceding a stroke. The multiple winner on the Sunshine Series welcomed his first child at the end of last year and his appearance this week in California is his return to competitive golf.

The two other South African players in La Quinta, Erik van Rooyen (-6) and Garrick Higgo (-3), cannot feel too unhappy about their performances, even though they are far behind the leaders.

*In the United Arab Emirates, De Jager finished the first day of the Dubai Desert Classic only one stroke behind the leaders. His performance at the Emirates Club was flawless.

The 36-year-old native of Duiwelskloof (nowadays known as Modjadjiskloof) near Tzaneen kicked off with a birdie at the first hole after which he scored 11 consecutive figures.

However, the eight-time tournament winner, who lives in Centurion these days, finished solidly with birdies at the 13th, 14th and 18th holes for a score of 68 (-4).

Four players, the American Cameron Young, the Englishman Andy Sullivan, the Dane Rasmus Hojgaard and the 2018 champion Li Haotong of China set the pace at 67 (-5).

Young ended his day in brilliant fashion when he rolled in a putt from around 20m for an eagle three at the 18th to end the day together at the top of the leaderboard.

Haotong had a nightmare season last year, but a new set of clubs and a new swing have produced good results and raised hopes of a bright season for the man who pipped Rory McIlroy to the Dubai crown by one shot six years ago. has.

McIlroy, the defending champion, started like a man on a mission and scored four birdies over the first nine holes.

Over the second nine, however, the world’s second best player lost momentum and bogeys at the sixth, seventh and eighth holes stopped his attempt to successfully defend his title in his tracks and the Northern Irishman finished for a score of 71 (-1 ) signed.

Two South Africans, MJ Daffue and Hennie du Plessis, occupy the 27th position together with McIlroy after they also surpassed the course mark of 72 by one shot.

Casey Jarvis (72) and Jayden Schaper (73) would have hoped for better performances beforehand, while Thriston Lawrence looked tired and played a disappointing 75.

Ockie Strydom (75), like Lawrence, has a weighty task ahead of him to survive Friday’s cut-off mark.

*In Orlando, Florida, the 36-year-old Buhai delivered a solid performance on the Lake Nona course by completing the first round of the LPGA Series’ Tournament of Champions in 69 shots (-3).

Buhai ended her 2023 season on a high note with a victory in the first week of December in the Australian Open.

On Thursday, she built on this sparkling performance and scored four birdies over her first nine to rank among the leaders. However, the Johannesburger dropped out on her second nine after her first nine of 32 shots.

Buhai, who started the first round at the tenth hole, was only one shot behind the leader after 13 holes at -5, but two missed shots on the course’s seventh and eighth holes unfortunately spoiled her day and she dropped back to the joint sixth position.

The other South African women’s star in the elite field of 35 tournament winners, Paula Reto, unfortunately covers the rear.

Reto started the tournament with two consecutive brews and things just didn’t want to improve after that. A double bogey at Reto’s penultimate hole would have left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Canadian Open champion of 2022; she hopes for a much better season than last year.

Reto has fallen more than 100 positions in the world rankings in the past 12 months and is struggling to reach her best level of play again. On Thursday, she hit just ten of the 18 greens in regulation and needed 30 putts.

Ayaka Furue of Japan (65) is the leader at -7, followed by Gaby Lopez of Mexico and Maya Stark of Sweden at -5.

Lopez was surprised afterwards with her own performance, as she has played almost no golf since the end of November last year. She got married in the middle of December in front of more than 500 guests after which she traveled to Tanzania for a safari and then took a boat cruise on the Nile River. Until the beginning of this week, golf was probably not on her mind at all.

  • Additional information: PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LPGA Tour