Nicolas Colsaerts birdied nine of the last 11 holes to set the pace with a course record nine-under 64 in the first round of the Volvo Golf Champions tournament at The Links at Fancourt on Thursday.
The big-hitting Belgian jumped into a four-stroke lead in an event billed as the European Tour’s first true tournament of champions.
On a hot, almost wind-free day, Colsaerts’ nearest challengers on five-under 68 were South Africans Branden Grace and Thomas Aiken, and young Englishman Tom Lewis.
Colsaerts birdied all four of the par-threes and four of the par-fives.
“I can reach most of the par-fives in two, so it’s quite a bonus when you get to birdie the par-threes,” the man who vies with Spain’s Alviro Quiros as the longest hitter on the European Tour said.
The only par-five he failed to birdie was the fourth, where he hit a four-iron over the green.
Colsaerts got his round going with a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-three second, “pretty much the longest putt I holed all day.”
Because of the challenging nature of the course, he said it was probably the best round of his career.
“I kept hitting the irons very, very close to the flag,” he said.
George resident Grace, who qualified for the tournament by winning last week’s Joburg Open, said his round could have been even better.
“I missed a couple of short ones, but I kept hitting the ball well and giving myself chances. It will be nice to see how I can follow it up,” Grace said.
Lewis, who turned 21 two weeks ago, double-bogeyed the 16th, but finished with two birdies. Having only turned professional late last year, he said he had not even been aware that there was a tournament open only to champions.
“But obviously to be here with the players that are here, it is incredible,” Lewis said.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington got to six-under, but drove into trouble on the par-five 18th, then three-putted for a double-bogey seven to join David Horsey, Joost Luiten and Louis Oosthuizen on 69.
Harrington said his finish had spoiled what had been “a comfortable six-under.”
He said the tee shot on the last was a mental error.
Oosthuizen, who lives in nearby Mossel Bay, said the greens were in good condition.
“You can attack it a little bit, but it’s still a proper golf course and you need to hit it straight,” he said.
Home favorite Ernie Els dropped two shots on the first three holes, but a strong finish, which included birdies on the last three holes, enabled him to dip under par with a 71.
“I played here I think about eight to 10 times through the December holiday, making six, seven, eight birdies with my mates, but it’s different when you are playing competitive golf,” Els said. “I’m glad I got it under par and I’m not out of the tournament.”
US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel went out in three-over 39. Three birdies in a row from the 13th got him back to even-par, but he then bogeyed the 16th and 18th, both par-fives, to limp in with a 75, one behind playing partner Darren Clarke, The Open champion.