After a testing first day of the Tshwane Open at Pretoria Country Club on Thursday, a trio of golfers – France’s Gregory Havret, South African Haydn Porteous and Alexander Bjork of Sweden – held the lead after shooting impressive six-under-par 65s.
But they have a multitude of golfers chasing after them, with 29 others within three shots, including 2015 Tshwane Open champion George Coetzee, Dean Burmester and SA Open champions Graeme Storm and Hennie Otto, who all shot 68s.
Havret, chasing his first European Tour win since 2008, was off early in the morning and blazed to six-under-par after the first nine holes.
Bogeys followed on the 11th and 13th holes, but the 40-year-old birdied the par-three 14th and the penultimate hole to post the clubhouse target of six-under-par.
“I was pretty hot on the front nine, but the back nine was a bit tougher and I didn’t play that great, but I had a couple of good wedges on 14 and 17. They saved me a bit for that back nine. Six-under is definitely a good score though, and with eight birdies overall, my game was quite good,” Havret said.
The 22-year-old Porteous teed off half-an-hour after Havret and, starting on the 10th, was clearly becoming a threat when he birdied the 17th and 18th holes to move to four-under-par.
Most impressively, Porteous completed his round without dropping a shot, gaining further birdies on the par-four fourth and sixth holes, and to do that on a tight course that demands accuracy like Pretoria Country Club is a sure sign that his swing is becoming much more consistent.
“It’s something that I have been really searching for for the last few months. I was in a dark place with my golf but to come back in my home country and in my home province and start to find my swing and really start to get some good scores under the belt, is something I have really needed for a long time.
“To be bogey-free around this course is a fair effort, and I think I missed only two or three fairways all day. I gave myself 15 to 16 good chances of making a birdie. All-in-all I couldn’t be happier with where my golf is starting to go and hopefully I can only improve on it,” Porteous said.
Bjork was also bogey-free as he shot his 65 in the afternoon, and said he enjoyed the experience of playing a course that always kept the mind active.
“It’s a narrow course with really high rough, so it’s important to be straight off the tee and also think where you want to put the tee shot to attack the pin. I like it. You need to think a bit off the tee and not just hit the driver.
“I played good today. I was solid off the tee, hitting straight and also hitting some good irons and some putts. It was a good start, and if you shoot 65, that’s always a good round,” Bjork said.
Scotsman Duncan Stewart, Finland’s Mikko Korhonen, South African Justin Walters, Ben Eccles of Australia and Englishman Toby Tree are in a tie for fourth after shooting 66s.
Tree’s best ever European Tour finish came in last year’s Tshwane Open – 14th – and he also appreciated the challenges in playing the course on Thursday.