Most of the golfers interviewed before the start of the South African Open agreed that the Glendower Golf Club course would demand good driving and putting in order to excel, and Branden Grace epitomised that as he fired a fantastic seven-under-par 65 to claim a share of the first-round lead on Thursday.
The fact that he became the first South African to register three eagles in a round on the European Tour showed just how long and straight he was off the tee and how good his putting was as he also collected three birdies.
“I can’t remember ever having three eagles in a round before, so that was something different, it was fun. It was a great start to 2018 and a nice way to start the tournament. I hit great tee-shots, especially on all the par-fives, and once I rolled in one putt [his eagle on the second hole], I just seemed to get on a roll on the greens.
“Normally if I get one eagle a month I’m pretty grateful, but I was hitting the ball good and I made some nice putts, my putting was great, that was the big thing. My driving was pretty decent too and if I was off the fairway, it was only by a yard or two, which is no problem. So I played well,” a chuffed Grace said after his round.
Chase Koepka, the younger brother of PGA Tour star and reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks, collected four birdies in five holes from the 12th and held the lead by himself on seven-under until Grace caught him by rolling in a 20-foot putt on the 15th and notching his third eagle.
“Inside 150 yards, I was really good today. I didn’t have too many shots from inside 150, but every one that I had, I was hitting them close and then made good birdie putts. Obviously the putter was really hot on the front nine and then I had a bunch of short putts on the back nine, which helped,” Koepka, freshly graduated from the Challenge Tour and playing in South Africa for the first time, said.
Englishman Chris Paisley went out early and shot a 66 to finish alone in third place on six-under-par, and South Africans Erik van Rooyen and Richard Sterne both fired good rounds of 67 to share fourth place on five under-par with Scotsman Bradley Neil and Spaniard Nacho Elvira, who found two greenside bunkers on 18 and made bogey to drop back at the death.