Near-perfect scoring conditions at Irene Country Club made for a feast of birdies on day one of the Big Easy IGT Challenge Tour #14, with nearly a third of the field breaking par.
Johannesburg golfer Matt Bright made seven to surge to the summit with a bogey-free 65. The Road to Sunshine Tour leader leads by one shot from Theunis Bezuidenhout, who offset three bogeys and a double at the 16th with 11 birdies for a 66.
Kyle Barker, Luke Brown, Ruan Conradie, Roberto Lupini, Eric Nel and Korea’s DK Kim lurk just two off the pace, with another six players just a further shot adrift.
Bright is hunting his third victory on the golf development circuit this season, having run up a double in #5 at Killarney and #6 at Centurion Country Club in July. He only made two birdies on his outward nine, but rattled off five on the home stretch.
‘I haven’t been hitting it well in the past couple of weeks, so I took a couple days off last week to get my head back in the right space,’ said the 24-year-old entrepreneur. ‘I hit a lot of golf balls to get back in the groove and it was really solid today. I hit 10 fairways, which was very pleasing as it was a weak point in my game. I hit it close on a lot of greens, but I missed quite a few birdie chances, especially on the front nine.
‘I nearly holed my third at 10, but left it hanging on the lip and tapped in for birdie. At 13, I hit 8-iron to 15 foot under the hole and rolled it straight in the middle of the cup. That was probably my best putt of the day.
‘At 15, I hit 6-iron down the middle and sand-wedge to 10 foot right and made the birdie putt. I hit a huge drive at 17 and got a very big bounce down the right-hand side into the rough. I had 140m flag, hit gap-wedge to 10 foot and missed the eagle putt.
‘At the last hole, I hit it next to the green and hit a nice little chip to six foot behind the hole and made the birdie putt. I love Irene. I play a lot of golf here and the course is in great condition. It’s early days and there is a lot of golf left, but I’m pleased that I’ve put myself in a strong position on the first day.’
Bezuidenhout fired a string of six birdies from the 6th and grabbed another gain at the 13th to move to seven under. A bogey at the 14th and a double at the 16th put the brakes on his challenge, but the North West golfer finished birdie-birdie to keep the leader in his sights.
‘I’m really pleased with this round, especially with the SA Open qualifiers just around the corner,’ he said. ‘I stuck a new putter in the bag and just felt comfortable on the greens.
‘At 16, I hit my pitching-wedge slightly right and connected with a tree and the ball ricochet into the water. It was an unlucky break, but I took the drop and the double and luckily I was able to clear the slate with birdies at 17 and 18.’
First Round Scores
All SA unless specified; amateurs AMA
65 – Matt Bright
66 – Theunis Bezuidenhout, Marthin Scheepers
67 – Kyle Barker, Ruan Conradie, Roberto Lupini, Dongkwan Kim (KOR), Eric Nel, Luke Brown
68 – Estiaan Conradie, Derick Petersen, Jack Duthie, John McClean (NIR), Andi Dill, Thabang Simon
69 – Clinton Grobler, Dylan Kok, Tristen Strydom, Jason Rossiter, Allan Versfeld, Dwayne Basson, Bradley Diggeden AMA, Jason Diab, Steven Lecuyer (CAN)
Photo: Matt Bright, by CJ du Plooy