Johannesburg - After an early start and fighting the wind at East London Golf Club, Ireland’s Kevin Phelan was leading the pack after his first-round of five-under-par 67 in the Africa Open Golf Challenge.
He shared the lead with Matt Ford of England, who started over four hours later than Phelan, and they had a one-stroke edge over a group of five players on four-under-par 68.
Phelan finished last week’s Joburg Open in a share of second -- a good performance, but one which left him slightly disappointed because his world ranking meant he lost out on a spot in this year’s Open Championship to fellow runners-up David Howell and Anthony Wall. "It was nice to play well last week and I did well before that in India. I felt really good going into last week and I'm happy to be playing well back-to-back in tournaments," said Phelan.
Ford, who signed for his 67 without a blemish on his card, Phelan made just one bogey to go with his six birdies.
"I took advantage of the opportunities I had and any time I was close to a green I made it up and down," he said.
The wind made scoring difficult, particularly on the holes which played into the stiff south-westerly.
"It was the opposite wind to what we had in practice, so the experience we got those rounds could almost be scrapped! It was quite similar to last year’s wind. It's narrow in places out here, so you have to keep it in front of you and know where you’re going," he said.
Ford was thrilled to post his bogey-free round.
"I think it’s the first time this year that I’ve had no bogeys, so that will keep a couple of people at home happy. I had a couple of scrambles to start with, but then I started playing pretty nicely.
"From the middle of the round and all the way through to the end I gave myself some good opportunities. It was a good first round," he said.
The leading South African after the opening round was Neil Schietekat, who took his maiden Sunshine Tour title in the 2013 Platinum Classic. He was one of the five on four-under-par 68.
"This course is a sleeping beast. With no wind guys will shoot seven or eight under around here, but I’ve heard that it will blow quite hard for the week," he said.
Leading Africa Open first-round scores Thursday at the par-72,
6 108-metre (6 679-yard) East London Golf Club (RSA unless noted):
67 - Matt Ford (ENG), Kevin Phelan (IRL)
68 - Richard Bland (ENG), David Howell (ENG), John Parry (ENG), Eduardo de la Riva (ESP), Neil Schietekat
- Oliver Bekker, Tyrone Ferreira, Trevor Fisher jnr, Matthew
Fitzpatrick (ENG), Gregory Havret (FRA), Tom Lewis (ENG), Chris Lloyd
70 - Felipe Aguilar (CHI), Seve Benson (ENG), David Drysdale
(SCO), Mikael Lundberg (SWE), Shaun Norris, Adrian Otaegui (ESP), Erik
van Rooyen, Mark Tullo (CHI), Julien Quesne (FRA), Justin Walters, Jaco