Darren Fichardt claims early lead at Tshwane Open

SOUTH AFRICAN STAR::Following his win at the Africa Open two weeks ago, Darren Fichardt was in fine form, hitting eight birdies over the 18 holes

AFP, PRETORIA

Sat, Mar 02, 2013 - Page 19

South African Darren Fichardt birdied eight holes en route to a seven-under-par 65 and a one-shot first-round lead in the maiden Tshwane Open golf championship on Thursday.

The 37-year-old from Pretoria was continuing good recent form which saw him survive late final-round jitters to win the Africa Open by two strokes in East London two weeks ago.

A bogey five on the seventh — the third last hole for Fichardt as he started at the 10th — was the sole blemish over the par-72 7,791-yard Copperleaf Golf and Country Estate course.

He had five birdies on his front nine of a course designed by South African golf legend Ernie Els and a further three on his second nine, before he came to grief at the 390-yard seventh hole.

“What a funny game,” four-time European Tour winner Fichardt said. “I birdied all of the tough holes on this great course and then I bogey the easiest one. That is how this game is. I got a bad bounce off the tee and it went into a bunker. Despite a horrendous lie, I managed to get my second to the front edge of the green, chipped it close and missed the short putt.”

Fichardt is one stroke ahead of Bjorn Akesson of Sweden in the 1.5 million euro (US$1.970 million) tournament, with 237,750 euros going to the first winner of the sixth and final European Tour event in South Africa.

Among those two shots off the pace on 67 were English pair David Howell and Gary Lockerbie, South Africans Charl Coetzee and Jean Hugo, Chilean Mark Tullo and Indian Jeev Milkha Singh.

Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland did best of the three Major winners in the 156-strong field by shooting a 69, Michael Campbell of New Zealand had an even-par 72 and there was a 76 from Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain.

Clarke won The Open two years ago, Campbell topped the 2005 US Open leaderboard, and 2012 Ryder Cup-winning captain Olazabal was the 1994 and 1999 US Masters champion.

Olazabal was facing a fight yesterday to make the cut, as was pre-Tshwane Open favorite Jaco van Zyl of South Africa, who hit a three-over 75 on Thursday.