He hardly looked up to check the leaderboard but by the time Louis Oosthuizen removed his cap for a handshake with his playing partners early Thursday afternoon‚ he held a respectable lead after his opening round in the SA Open.
He had blazed his way around the shorter but curvier Bushwillow lay-out‚ carding a blemish free round of 62 that included nine birdies on the par-71 course.
His lead was‚ however‚ trimmed in the late afternoon to just one shot as American Kurt Kitayama negotiated the more demanding Firethorn lay-out in a tied course record 63.
Kitayama‚ last week’s winner of the Mauritius Open‚ has had an eventful few weeks having come through qualifying school‚ underperforming in Hong Kong‚ winning in Mauritius and shooting a course record at Firethorn on Thursday.
“I’ve been riding that momentum and the putter has been really good so far‚” Kitayama said with a broad smile.
Zambia’s Madalitso Muthiya’s scorching outward six-under 29‚ helped lay the platform for his opening round 63.
Muthiya‚ a product of the University of New Mexico‚ is ranked 1330th in the world but he belied that lowly position with a flawless round on Thursday.
“Today wasn’t necessarily easy‚” said Muthiya after his round at Bushwillow.
“The wind was swirling here and there in gusts. It certainly wasn’t as easy as people say it is‚” Muthiya insisted.
With half the field playing the longer Firethorn lay-out before changing around on Friday‚ Oosthuizen knows the score he posted has to be measured in a parallel universe.
Among the leading 26 players after the first round only Kitayama‚ South Africa’s Zander Lombard who is on seven under‚ Jake Roos and Charl Schwartzel‚ as well as Germany’s Max Schmitt played the Firethorn lay-out.
Still though‚ nine-under is nine-under and Oosthuizen is satisfied.
“Anytime‚ anywhere nine-under is going to feel nice‚” Oosthuizen said.
“It was one of those rounds where you don’t look at the scores or your card‚ you just play.
“I drove it really well and gave myself good opportunities to get it close. I was putting nicely.
“Birdie and birdie just came. Matt (Wallace) and I went through a stage where I’d make a putt‚ then he’d make a putt. We were neck and neck the whole time up until 13. It is nice when two guys play good in the group.”
Although he will tackle the more demanding Firethorn course on Friday‚ Bushwillow was not breeze.
“It is a long way to go‚” said Oosthuizen.
“I have one golf course out of the way and now I can focus on the main golf course for the week. It feels like a new tournament starting for me on Friday.
He’ll have Wallace for company again on Friday.
The Englishman made a breezy start.
“The first five holes to come out of the blocks like that after a few weeks off was nice‚” he said.
“I was a bit rusty on those holes where I dropped shots. I think that was the difference between Louis and I. I made bogey on the par three which was a par hole today. A bogey from 70 yards and he birdied so there’s three shots. But I played nicely.”
Wallace is three shots off the lead along with Zimbabwe’s Mark Williams and South Africa’s Tyrone Ferreira. Five-time champion and tournament host Ernie Els was a popular early front runner.
His 66 left him four off the pace along with fellow South African David McIntyre‚ the 999th ranked player in the world.