Chris Selfridge raced into solo second after a red-hot 66 in the South African Stroke Play Championship at Benoni Country Club.
The Moyola Park man, a third student at University of Toledo, had an eagle two and six birdies to lie just two shots behind South Africa’s number one amateur Christiaan Bezuidenhout.
Know to the locals as Rambo, Bezuidenhout racked up eight birdies in a superb eight-under-par 64 in his bid for back-to-back wins following his six-stroke win in the Free State Vodacom Amateur Stroke Play Open Championship on Sunday.
Selfridge, 21, finished tied for eighth behind Bezuidenhout in the Free State Championship but hopes to get into contention this week and scorching home in 31 blows.
“I played well tee to green, but I left a few putts out there,” Selfridge told the South Africa Golf Association website. “Coming home in 31 feels good. This is a good position to be in so early in the tournament and hopefully I can keep myself in contention for the title.”
Starting on the 10th, Selfridge had two bogeys and a birdie in his first four holes before getting to grips with the course.
Birdies at the 15th and 18th saw him turn in one under par before he picked up shots at the first and sixth, holed a nine-iron for an eagle two from 155 yards at the seventh ["Was perfect," he tweeted. "1 bounce and in."] and then birdied the ninth.
West Waterford's Gary Hurley and Ballymena's Dermot McElroy came back from poor starts - both were two over after three holes - to card three under 69s and share ninth place.
Hurley double bogeyed the par-three third but birdied the seventh and ninth to turn in level before picking up three more birdies on the back nine.
McElroy bogeyed the second and third but birdied the seventh, 10th and 13th before rounding off a good day with a sweet eagle three at the 18th.
Balbriggan's Robbie Cannon and Portmarnock's Geoff Lenehan both racked up six birdies in one under 71s that left them tied for 28th.
But it was a tougher day at the office for Mourne's Reeve Whitson, Headfort's Rory McNamara and Naas' Jack Hume as they all posted one over 73s to share 55th spot.
According to the South African Golf Association:
Bezuidenhout has a three shot cushion on 17-year-old Ewen Ferguson from the Scottish Golf Union’s Mens National Team, and is four shots clear of Scott Gibson of Scotland, Swiss golfer
Joel Girrbach and compatriots Andrew Carlsson, Marco Steyn and top ranked junior Kyle McClatchie, who joined the bus at four under late in the day after boxing a nine-iron from 155 meters at the par-three eighth for his second career ace.
But it was Bezuidenhout who finished birdie-birdie to sit top of the pile at the end of a calm, warm day in Benoni.
“I just played really well, especially off the tee and my short game,” said Bezuidenhout. “I missed just two fairways and had 26 putts, so not a bad day at the office, at all.”
In fact, it doesn’t seem as if the Ernie Els and Fancourt Foundation player has had a bad day at the office since he claimed the Western Province Stroke Play and Match Play double last April.
Bezuidenhout followed the double triumph at Strand Golf Club with four more victories and took the top spot in the rankings with win number seven at the Nkangala Mining Equipment Mpumalanga Open in September.
The purple patch continued with a six-stroke victory at the weekend when he scooped the Free State Stroke Play with a winning score of 20-under-par 268. The win came on the back of two runner-up finishes in KwaZulu-Natal, so little wonder he started this week as the outright favourite.
Birdies at the second, fourth and ninth helped the Ekurhuleni golfer move into contention, and he surged ahead of the completion with five more gains at the 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 18th.
“You want to get your hands on every trophy you play for, and especially the SA Stroke Play or Match Play trophies, but this game doesn’t really work like that,” said Bezuidenhout.
“It was nice to start with a solid round and put myself in a strong position. My short game was really good, especially the putts and I think eight under is a good position to be in.
“I wanted to give myself as many chances as possible to make birdies, so I’m happy I pulled that off.”