Five Irish players made the trip to South Africa for the opening Challenge Tour event of the season but the travelling quintet will need improved performances to avoid missing Friday’s cut.
Gavin Moynihan’s even par effort was the best the Irish could muster on day one of the Limpopo Championship where Daniel Van Tonder set a blistering pace at nine-under par.
Moynihan traded three birdies with three bogeys in his opening 72 but finds himself outside the top-100 after the first day’s play.
A shot further back is Robin Dawson and Michael Hoey who ground out hard-fought one-over par rounds of 73. Niall Kearney is another who didn’t find his A-game on day one – he managed just one birdie in a two-over 74 while Naas pro Conor O’Rourke will also need to go low on Friday to have any chance of making it into the weekend after returning a plus-three 75.
Thursday was all about van Tonder who carded a brilliant nine-under 63 at Koro Creek Golf Club to take a two-shot lead into the second day.
The 28-year-old is looking to secure his first European Challenge Tour victory at the co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour event and wasted little time charging to the top of the leaderboard, opening his title bid with an eagle before reeling off seven further gains on day one.
The first event of the season is played across two courses and local teenager Wilco Nienaber and Greek Sunshine Tour player Peter Karmis, who began their title challenge at Euphoria Golf Club, share second place with South African duo Hennie du Plessis and MJ Viljoen, who tackled Koro Creek, on seven under par.
Van Tonder will now travel to Euphoria, where he claimed the second of his three Sunshine Tour victories in 2014, with the field playing one round at both Koro Creek and Euphoria before the competitors are whittled down to the top 60 and ties where the remaining players will compete for the title at Euphoria over the weekend.
“I’m delighted with that score today,” he said. “I missed a few birdie opportunities out there but nine under par is a great way to start.
“It’s not a long course so it is important to plot your way around and if you manage to get your tee shot away then you give yourself a great birdie opportunity, which I managed to do really successfully today.”
While the Limpopo Championship begins the 2020 Road to Mallorca, Van Tonder is also targeting a maiden victory on The 2020 Sunshine Tour Order of the Merit, with the 28-year-old occupying second place with just four events of the Southern African’s circuit season remaining.
“I think it’s a really good thing for The Sunshine Tour and Challenge Tour to compete together and it was fun to play with Spanish player Pep Angles out there who is a good friend,” he said.
“I’ve been playing well for a while and I think my game is good enough to have a chance to win, so I’m going to go out and give myself a chance and we’ll see at the end of the day.”
Defending champion JC Ritchie and his fellow South Africans Anton Haig and Rourke van der Spuy, Germany’s Bernd Ritthammer and Jonas Kölbing, England’s Todd Clements and Swede Philip Eriksson share sixth place on six under par after the opening round.
First round leader van Tonder will get his second round under way at 11.20am local time, with the action continuing at both courses at 6.30am.
Full scoring HERE