US golfer Bill Haas and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts shared the first-round lead at the Nedbank Golf Challenge after posting two-under-par rounds of 70 in tough conditions on Thursday.
A significant breeze and a demanding layout ensured that none of the players in the 12-man field could escape the chasing pack and the top 10 finished within two strokes of each other.
Haas, who had reached four- under by the 15th, bogeyed the 16th hole and found himself in big trouble at the par-four 18th, before sinking a 12-foot putt to salvage a bogey.
“I was happy to make that putt on the last, I mean a six would have really stung. Overall, to get it to four-under, I felt like I was doing a lot of good things,” Haas told a news conference.
“I’m happy with two-under because it’s playing tough out there,” he added.
Excessive rain has resulted in the rough being thicker than usual and the course was set up to test the players. Birdies were hard to come by and the US golfer felt the presence of a stiff breeze contributed to the mediocre scoring.
“It is playing tough, a little bit of breeze and rough, like I showed you on 18th,” Haas joked. “I think it was tough, and today was the most wind we’ve had and I think it can blow a bit harder.”
Colsaerts constructed a steady round, reaching the turn at level-par after a birdie and a bogey on the front nine, before birdies at the 10th and 11th holes.
“I normally hit it very long off the tee, but around here I chose a less aggressive strategy, even when I was hitting driver,” the Ryder Cup player said.
“I played the same game as everyone. The wind was quite difficult to read, and it always felt like it was coming from one side. I had difficulty with it at 18,” he added.
Local hero Louis Oosthuizen at one stage slipped to two-over for his round, but produced three birdies coming home without any further blemishes to finish on a respectable 71, ending in a three-way tie for third with Britain’s Paul Lawrie and Lee Westwood.
Defending champion Westwood was not at his best, but ground out a useful round including three birdies and two bogeys.
The 39-year-old was playing with fellow Englishman Justin Rose, who struggled to a 73.