He complains that he is rusty, but the Yank Max Homa still had enough ammunition to finish the first day of the Nedbank Challenge tournament at Sun City in the lead.
The 32-year-old Homa waved his iron like a magic wand on the greens and six birdies in his flawless performance of 66 shots on the Gary Player course put the American star at -6 in joint first position.
Three other players, Nicolai Hojgaard, Dan Bradbury and Vincent Norman, were equally at home on the short grass of the challenging championship course at Pilanesberg and all three also entered scores of 66 on their scorecards over Thursday’s first 18 holes.
The leaders are being chased by the Frenchman Julien Guerrier, Japan’s Ryo Hisatsune and the Pole Adrian Meronk, who all three had a solid start with scores of 67.
Homa, no. 8 in the world ranking, his first two birdies were after two successful putts of about ten meters.
And his last two birdies were the results of putts from about seven and five meters that landed safely in the can.
“I’m a little shocked. I would think the odds were better for six shots over par than six under par.
“I wanted to impress the spectators and show them that I can play. I putted very well and felt at ease the whole day and didn’t experience any pressure,” Homa said afterwards.
According to the joint leader, he began to swing better and better as the round progressed. By the end he felt in control despite having last played almost six weeks ago.
His practice round on Tuesday was disrupted by rain and Homa’s knowledge of the course’s potholes is limited.
“The most important thing is to keep the ball in play,” he says of his plans to keep him in the race for the title.
Co-leader Bradbury was all smiles as he finished the first round at -6 joint atop the leaderboard.
“I think it’s the delicious steaks that one can eat in South Africa that make me play well,” joked the Englishman after his showboating performance.
Bradbury won the Joburg Open at Houghton in November last year in only his third appearance in the European Golf Series.
He then experienced a solid season and is in his prime with his good start in what is widely regarded as Africa’s major tournament.
Hojgaard, like Homa, played in the Ryder Cup just over a month ago and was one of the European stars in their runaway victory over America.
The 22-year-old Dane recorded eight birdies and two bogeys in his campaign for the coveted Sun City crown.
“I performed well from the fairway and gave myself numerous chances for birdies. I am very satisfied with how things went,” said the young Dane.
The Swedish star Norman suddenly appeared on the scene in the last four months and achieved two victories on the DP World series.
“It was fun even though it was bitterly hot at one stage. I hit very good groundstrokes and putted well,” said the Swede about his starting performance.
Hennie du Plessis leads the local attack of the six SA players in the selection field of 66.
Du Plessis lies in joint twentieth position after a solid 70 (-2).
Thriston Lawrence (71) and Branden Grace (72) will not be unhappy about their start, but Ockie Strydom (75) and Louis de Jager and Zander Lombard, who both started with disappointing scores of 76, will have to pull out if they Sunday at all to be in the race for the laurels.
Two of the tournament’s big attractions, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Thomas, had to settle for scores of 71 and 72 respectively.
Fleetwood’s sights are on a third consecutive victory at the Sun City, but he will have to find a higher gear over the last three rounds if he wants to make his winning dreams come true.
*In the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, Swede Alex Noren scored eleven birdies and a bogey for a score of 61 (-10) and a lead of two shots after day one of this PGA Series tournament in Southampton.
Noren is followed on 63 by Americans DJ Trahan, Vince Whaley, Robert Garrigus and Dylan Wu.
Dylan Frittelli (69) and MJ Daffue (70) from South Africa both surpassed the course mark, but are far behind Noren.
*The South Africans Ashleigh Buhai and Paula Reto are also far behind the leaders after the first round of The Annika Championship which is decided in Belleair in Florida.
Buhai is on par at 72, a full eight strokes behind Canada’s Brooke Henderson (64), with Reto on 73 a further stroke back.
Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit, South Korea’s Jin-Young Ko, Japan’s Minami Katsu and Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen all shot four scores of 65 to share second place.
*In Phoenix in Arizona, Ernie Els is the leader after the first round of the Charles Schwab tournament.
The SA golf star recorded a great score of 63 (-8) in the PGA series for seniors’ last tournament of the season.
The 54-year-old Els is chasing a second title of the year after winning the Hoag Classic tournament in March.
The four-time major champion is currently well on his way and has finished in the top ten each time in his last four tournaments.
Els’ performance on the first day was flawless.
He kicked off with three consecutive birdies after which another at the fifth hole saw him turn in 31 shots.
Over the second nine, birdies at the eleventh, twelfth, sixteenth and seventeenth holes gave Els’ campaign further impetus.
Thongchai Jaidee, Harrison Frazar and Stephen Ames are the closest players to Els at 65.
- Additional source: Golf Week