Johannesburg - A year ago, Jaco van Zyl wasn’t sure he could walk 18 holes.
After a seven-under-par 65 on Thursday, he found himself in the first-round lead of the BMW South African Open Championship proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni at Glendower Golf Club.
The opening round was scheduled to be completed on Friday after a storm halted play with 33 players still on the course according to the Sunshine Tour website.
Van Zyl played his first round without the assistance of knee braces after surgery to both his knees in 2014, and he picked up where he left off in the 2015 season with a round filled with an eagle, six birdies and a bogey which gave him a one-stroke edge over Shaun Norris, with Keith Horne and Jbe’ Kruger sharing third on five-under.
It was a satisfying start to a tournament Van Zyl badly wants to win. “It really felt good out there today. I felt very comfortable and there was not too much rust,” he said. “It’s a very special week for South Africans, so we’re all going to try our best and stay in the mix.”
And if Van Zyl was satisfied, South African fans would have been pleased that, at the interruption, 11 of the top 19 players were South Africans: Justin Walters and Retief Goosen were on four-under, and Garth Mulroy, Branden Grace, Anthony Michael, Jacques Kruyswijk and Wallie Coetsee were all on three-under.
The scores were low on a course that made things tough for the players last year. But with a drought and a heatwave leaving the rough less punitive than it was then, there were birdies to be made for those who were careful. “It’s one of those golf courses that you go round and you think that it’s there for the taking but as soon as you let your guard down a little, it bites,” said Van Zyl. “So you’ve always got to pick your targets off the tees, pick safe targets into greens and try and hole a couple of putts.”
Horne agreed. “There are a lot of holes here where you actually learn to be a little bit defensive and take your pars on them, and then you can take on others. If you can get that right then there are a lot of birdie opportunities, you’ve just got to keep the bogeys off your card.”
Kruger believes he knows the secret to scoring around Glendower. “The first thing you have to do is hit the fairways. It’s not a very long course and there are a lot of opportunities for birdies. Today I fortunately made a few putts which gets my score to five-under.”
There’s a long way to go yet, but for Van Zyl, it’s a quest for a big title that has been started well. “If I can get my first European Tour win here, it would just be so sweet,” he said.