Niall Kearney enjoyed a nice start in firing a two-under par round of 71 to head the Irish Challenge after day one of the Dimension Data Pro-Am in Fancourt.
The Royal Dublin professional has been looking for a spark to kick-start his season during the Tour’s South African swing and there were signs he’s edging ever closer over his 18 holes on day one in George.
With three courses in operation this week, Kearney began his tournament on The Links where a run of three straight birdies over the front nine cancelled out two bogeys in an outward half of 35.
Kearney picked up another shot at the last to sign for a two-under par effort good enough for a share of 50th, and given no member of the leaderboard’s top-10 played The Links track, he can take plenty of confidence heading into the rest of the week knowing greener pastures lie ahead.
As for Robin Dawson and Gavin Moynihan, both players struggled for forward momentum on day one.
Tramore’s Dawson managed four birdies around The Links layout but was unable to limit the mistakes in carding two bogeys and a double for an even par effort while Moynihan, who tacked the Montagu, went two shots worse in picking up just one birdie in a two-over par 74.
Day one was all about Christiaan Bezuidenhout who took full advantage of benign early conditions at Fancourt Golf Estate to post an 11-under par round of 61.
The South African recorded a blemish-free round on the Outeniqua Course and will take a two-stroke lead into the second day ahead of Spain’s Santiago Tarrio Ben, who recorded a nine-under par round of 63 on the Montagu Course, with four-time Major Champion Ernie Els and Portuguese 20-year-old Stephen Ferreira a shot further back at eight-under par.
The World Number 60 made the turn in 31 strokes and required one fewer on the way in to take full advantage of the generous Outeniqua Course, recording the lowest round of his career in the process.
“I got off to a good start today with birdies on the first couple of holes,” he said. “It was crucial to get off to a good start because, over the years, the Outeniqua has been the scoreable course so I’m obviously very happy with my 61 today. I was especially happy with my start – I was four under par after five holes, so that also helps.
“It’s a bit shorter than the other courses and there’s a bit of space to miss here and there. All the par fives are reachable, so you want to make birdies on them and there are also four or five short-ish par fours where you’re only going into the green with a wedge, so you need to take advantage of those.
“I know I’m close to breaking into the world’s top-50, but I set myself a goal to finish the year inside the top 50. If it doesn’t happen this week, then I’m just going to keep going and see if I can achieve my goal by the end of the year.”
The Dimension Data Pro-Am celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and with the European Challenge Tour co-sanctioning the event with The Sunshine Tour for the first time in 2020, Bezuidenhout hopes to see it go from strength-to-strength in the future.
“This tournament just seems to get bigger and better every year, with better players,” he said. “It’s great to see the partnership with the Challenge Tour and the Sunshine Tour so hopefully it can keep growing for the next few years as well.
“This is an unbelievable place, one of my favourite places in South Africa. I normally come here during our summer breaks and it’s just beautiful. All three courses are in great condition, the weather is perfect, so I can’t complain.”
The majority of low scores were carded on the Outeniqua Course on day one, with only six of the top 17 playing the Montagu or The Links on day one.
A shot behind Els and Ferreira is a group of seven players on seven under par, including Limpopo Championship winner JC Ritchie and multiple European Tour winners George Coetzee, Haydn Porteous and Marcel Siem.
Every player will tee it up on each of Fancourt Golf Estate’s three courses this week, with leader Bezuidenhout taking to The Links at 9.20am local time for his second round on Friday.
Full scoring HERE