Henrik Stenson shrugged off three days in bed to lead the Nedbank Golf Challenge as Shane Lowry avoided feeling a little worse about his day by holing out for bogey from just off the 18th green.
It’s been a trying end to the year for Lowry, who has otherwise had a stellar season, winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and finishing fifth in the Race to Dubai en route to his current ranking of 21st in the world.
With a massive US$6.5m prize fund and a raft of world ranking poiints at stake, Lowry is hoping to finish the year on a high.
But he did well in the end to shoot a two over 74, holing a 15 footer for bogey on the last after leaving a bunker shot in the sand at the end of a trying day at the Gary Player Golf & Country Club in Sun City.
One under after four holes, Lowry bogeyed the fifth, eighth, ninth and 10th to slip to three over but after getting shots back at the 11th and 16th, he found a poor lie in greenside sand at the 18th and failed to get out at the first attempt.
Clearly exasperated, the 28-year old is tied for 26th in the 30-man field, eight shots behind Swedish world No 7 Stenson, whose preparation consisted of three days in bed with a virus.
Despite that, he still managed to share the first round lead with South African Jaco Van Zyl after opening with a six under par 66.
Stenson, who won the event in 2008 before it became part of the European Tour International Schedule, played the front nine in five under, added another birdie on the tenth and then battled his way home in level par as fatigue crept in.
Van Zyl, who was runner-up in the Turkish Airlines Open last month, mathced him with a six-birdie round while Englishman Danny Willett made a strong start to his title defence with a five under par 67.
Another South African, Branden Grace, is a shot further back on four under alongside Australian Marc Leishman, who is making his debut in the event.
“I’ve been in bed with the flu for three days, and after I had to pull out of the pro-am on Tuesday I probably had a five per cent chance of playing. I felt quite a bit better this morning and the doctor didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t play. I’m delighted with the score, but the last few holes I completely ran out of energy. From the 14th onwards my legs were like jelly and it was a real struggle. I missed a couple of chances coming in, but I would’ve taken one under par standing on the first tee, so I’m very happy.”
Jaco Van Zyl
“It’s a great honour and privilege to be here. I watch two events on TV each year – the Masters and this, so waking up this morning instead of making sure the beers and the biltong were ready I had to make sure my shoes were polished and my clubs were clean and go to work. On the first tee I could feel my heart beating in my throat. It didn’t slow down for the first three holes, but I managed to pick up a couple of quick birdies early on which settled the nerves a bit. I hit ten out of 14 fairways and a couple I missed weren’t in trouble, just in the first cut. There were a couple of short irons into par fours that I would’ve liked to get a bit closer, but the main thing is the 27 putts. It really is a thrill to be here. As a South African, it’s phenomenal to be part of this.”
"I played really well in the pro-am on Tuesday and played another seven holes in practice yesterday on my own trying to get a feel for the golf course again, and everything is in good shape. Because it’s at the same golf course, people expect you to play well again, but everyone knows how fickle this game can be. The course does set up well for me, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to shoot 67 every time you play it. Henrik played brilliantly. He didn’t miss many shots. I think he got very tired towards the end there but he played tremendous golf. Looking at that, you’ve got to think that if you can stay close to him over the next few days you’ll be doing well. Not too close though, he can keep his virus away!”
Round 1 scores
66 H Stenson (Swe), J Van Zyl (RSA),
67 D Willett (Eng),
68 B Grace (RSA), M Leishman (Aus),
69 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), R Knox (Sco), R Fisher (Eng), R Streb (USA),
70 B Wiesberger (Aut), M Jimenez (Esp), K Aphibarnrat (Tha), C Wood (Eng), L Oosthuizen (RSA), T Jaidee (Tha),
71 T Fleetwood (Eng), V Dubuisson (Fra), A Sullivan (Eng), C Schwartzel (RSA),
72 K Bradley (USA), L Westwood (Eng), E Grillo (Arg), B An (Kor),
73 T Aiken (RSA), S Piercy (USA),
74 S Kjeldsen (Den), S Lowry (Irl),
75 M Kaymer (Ger), W Simpson (USA),
77 S Bowditch (Aus).