10 February 2020 – Scotsman James Wilson fired some exceptional approach shots and yielded a hot putter to fire a stunning eight-under-par 64 for the first round lead in the South African Stroke Play Championship at Randpark Golf Club on Monday.
The Firethorn Course’s best defence – its fast and challenging greens – were left soft after torrential rain measuring nearly 140mm fell upon the Home of the South African Open on the weekend.
The soft conditions favoured players with a firm control on their approach shots, like Wilson, who could get aggressive and go flag hunting to set up birdie opportunities.
The Balmore golfer made a perfect start with short-range birdies on the 10th and 12th holes before he accelerated through the field with an eagle at the par five 14th. Another birdie followed on 18 and further gains came on the second, third, fourth and ninth.
His scorecard sported just one blemish – a lone bogey at the par three fifth.
Wilson will start the second round with a one-shot advantage over England Golf’s Haider Hussain, who stole into second late in the afternoon.
“I played really nicely; hit a lot of fairways and most of the greens and I took advantage of the par fives,” said Wilson. “The tees were up so just a lot of short irons in and I played sensible on the tougher strokes.”
Wilson could managed to break par once at the African Amateur Stroke Play Championship last week with his third round one-under-par 71, but certainly came into his own this week at the 5,902-metre Firethorn course.
“This course is way more forgiving than Leopard Creek,” he joked. “It’s cooler; the greens are not as grainy and less slopey and it’s not as penal off the tees. It’s been more relaxing around here and it’s not as long.”
Hussain was particularly impressive with a seven-under 65, which also featured an eagle on 14. He also lost just one shot to the field with a bogey at the scenic 402-metre closing hole.
Big-hitters Casey Jarvis from South Africa and Ireland’s Rowan Lester also capitalised with some great pin-seekers and tied for third on six-under.
Jarvis fired a 64 at the Firethorn on his way to winning the Joburg Junior Open in December last year. The 16-year-old got it to seven-under with one hole to play, but was left rueing a bogey finish after he shanked his 7-iron approach on the 18.
“I really played nicely and I got the putter going early on,” said the GolfRSA National Squad member.
“I didn’t putt well at Leopard Creek, so I worked on it over the weekend and I was rolling it well. I hit it just left of the fairway on 18 and had a perfect shot into the green, but I shanked it and had to get myself out of trouble. Came away with a good bogey. Shots like that happen some times. I’m not going to dwell on it too much. Still 54 holes to go.”
Lester got off to a very fast start and racked up six birdies through the first nine holes.
“Last week was a bit of a struggle; I wasn’t hitting the driver well, but everything else was solid. Today it all just worked. I got the driver going and thought I would do well. The back nine was okay; I just kind of hung in there,” he said. “The course is amazing. Last week and this week – we are really spoiled. I’ve been in college in America, which is why I couldn’t make the last few years, and it’s really great to be back.”
At least 14 players will start the second round within five shots of Wilson’s lead, and with favourable scoring conditions set to continue, the leaderboard could change hands dramatically in Tuesday’s switch draw.
Kyle de Beer, who skippered Team South Africa to victory in the Team Competition in last week’s African Amateur Stroke Play Championship, drew on his 36-hole experience in the SA Open to register a round of 67 for a share of fifth with Scotsman Connor Wilson.
Martin Vorster, who edged out Olly Huggins in a four-hole play-off for the African Amateur title at Leopard Creek, is also back in the mix at three-under.
The GolfRSA Nr 1 tied for seventh with fellow GolfRSA National Squad members Kieron van Wyk and Tyran Snyders, compatriots Louis Liebenberg, Shaun Jones and Thabiso Magwaza – a member of the South African Golf Development Board’s KwaZulu-Natal chapter – as well as Constantin Unger from Germany, Dutch pair Bob Geurts and Koen Kouwenaar.
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Written and released by Lali Stander on behalf of GolfRSA.