Antalya - South Africa’s Jaco van Zyl outshone the star names in his debut at the Turkish Airlines Open to soar to a three-stroke lead in the $7-million European Tour Final Series event on Thursday.
The 36-year-old Dainfern golfer put on a master class from tee to green at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal and hit the front with a flawless 11-under-par 61.
Van Zyl has been working tirelessly on his short game over the last fortnight and the decision is proving an inspired one as he rammed home a 60-foot snake for eagle at the par-five 11th and a raft of nine birdies.
His target was two shots less than the 63 from Spaniard Miquel Angel Jiménez in the first round last year, but it will not stand as the lowest score due to placing.
It did, however, hand the Kokstad native a tidy three shot lead on former world number one Lee Westwood from England and five shot cushion on fellow Brit Chris Wood.
“I prepared really nicely for this week,” said Van Zyl, who missed one fairway and used just 24 putts.
“After the practice rounds, I thought a four or five under par would be a great score. I’ve shot some low rounds before, but to shoot a low number like this on a calibre golf course is a lot of fun.
“The greens are really good but there is a lot of grain around the greens. You hit fairways and greens, it seems really easy but as soon as you are a little bit off, you’re going to get busy.”
Van Zyl set the tone for his round with a birdie at the par-five first and reeled in further gains at four, five and seven to turn four under.
“I have been giving the putter a really hard work out in the last two weeks,” Van Zyl said.
“I’ve been hitting it well for months now, but my short game has been shocking. That first putt was about 15 foot, which is pretty long for me. When I got that in the hole, I told my John (Rawlings – caddie) that this is looking good.”
He vaulted within two shots of Westwood with the eagle at 11 and passed the early leader with a nice little run of birdies from 13 to 15 and a birdie-birdie finish.
“That eagle putt was an absolute snake,” he said.
“It went up and down, left to right and right to left and I almost couldn’t believe when it dropped. I nearly got seasick watching that putt get to the hole.
“The eagle definitely gave me some momentum down the back nine. I drained a few more long ones and made a couple of crucial par-saves.
“When I started out on the European Tour, I wondered if I belonged. Now I get to enjoy the reward of all the hard work and it’s great fun to be in an elite field like this. Hopefully, I can keep this going.”
Meanwhile compatriot Thomas Aiken mixed five birdies with a bogey for a four-under-par 68, Trevor Fisher Jnr carded a 70 in his debut and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel opened with a 71, while Race to Dubai leader Rory McIlroy fired a flawless 67 to tie for fourth.