Defending champion Charl Schwartzel and Irishman Paul Dunne held a share of the lead after the first round of the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek on Thursday, after shooting six-under-par 66s.
They took contrasting routes to the top of the leaderboard, with Dunne having four birdies on his first eight holes, followed by a double-bogey, and then another four birdies coming in. The 24-year-old birdied two of the par-fives, five par-fours and the par-three seventh hole.
Schwartzel, the winner at Leopard Creek in 2004, 2012, 2013 and 2015, made a slower start and was only one-under-par at the turn, his only birdie coming on the par-three fifth hole.
But South Africa’s number two ranked golfer was on fire on the back nine, starting with successive birdies on the 10th and 11th holes and then further gains on the three par-fives coming in – the 13th, 15th and 18th holes.
“It was good with the Driver and I hit a lot of good shots today. My iron-play was very good today, I hit a lot of shots close, gave myself a lot of chances and my putting has been getting better each day. I feel if I can get the ball in play off the tee, with how my irons are feeling and how good the greens are, I’ll give myself loads of chances,” Dunne said.
“I wasn’t doing anything wrong really and my game was feeling good, but it was just a matter of getting the execution I was looking for and on the back nine it came together nicely,” Schwartzel said. “There are a few opportunities on the back nine, with those three par-fives, but I thought two or three birdies would be a good start.
“There are lots of birdies to be made out there, but it still takes good swings and good execution and you can’t force it otherwise this course will bite you. You don’t want to put yourself out of it, which you can very easily do, so on the front nine I was just really grinding to make pars and when I did find some good shots, I capitalised by making birdies.”
The wind never really picked up on the opening day and the course, set in prime bushveld so typical of Africa, had also been softened by a heavy thunderstorm the night before, so scoring was good.
Six golfers managed to shoot five-under-par 67s – Sweden’s Alexander Bjork, South Africans Jean Hugo and Brandon Stone, the talented Scott Jamieson, four-time European Tour winner Pablo Larrazabal and English rookie Max Orrin.
South Africans Jaco Ahlers, Dean Burmester, Dylan Frittelli, Justin Harding, Richard Sterne and Colin Nel are in the nine-man group on four-under-par, while Branden Grace shot 69 but endured a tough day.
Grace made a roaring start with four birdies in his first six holes, but then his putter went cold and it was a frustrated figure who deposited his approach shots into the water for bogeys on both the 15th and 18th holes.