Cormac Sharvin opened with an even par round of 72 as Jonathan Caldwell had a rare off day as the Alfred Dunhill Championship got underway at Leopard Creek.
Ardglass professional Sharvin saw his three birdies cancelled out by a bogey and a double on a tough opening session at Kruger National Park. With the leaders out in front at seven-under par, the 28-year old finds himself in a tie for 50th ahead of Friday’s second round as he looks to play all four rounds after missing out on the halfway cut last week in Joburg.
Clandeboye’s Caldwell is up against it in his bid to enjoy weekend progression after slumping to a seven-over par round of 79 in Malelane. The 36-year old posted two birdies but also three bogeys and three doubles to be well off the pace after the opening round.
Frenchman Robin Roussel and Poland’s Adrian Meronk both took the most advantage of a receptive Leopard Creek course and shared the lead with their rounds of seven-under-par 65.
Roussel enjoyed a run of five consecutive birdies from the turn on his way to the top of the leaderboard, while Meronk had two eagles – chipping in from the bunker for one of them – as they opened up a one-stroke lead over the rest of the field.
Their nearest challenger is Scotland’s Scott Jamieson who birdied four of his last five holes for a 66. Ockie Strydom leads the South African challenge after day one following a rare bogey-free round of four-under-par 68.
A bit of overnight rain and cooler conditions softened up the Leopard Creek course on day one of this Sunshine Tour and European Tour co-sanctioned tournament, which allowed particularly the morning field to take advantage.
“The course is definitely softer than what it was when we last played here in December. The greens were soft this morning, but it’s still Leopard Creek and a very good course so I’m delighted with a 65,” said Roussel.
“I had a bunch of good birdies on the back nine. I was lucky enough to have a local caddie on the bag and he read the greens pretty well. I had quality putts in that stretch and it’s thanks to him. But overall I’m so happy to be here in the middle of this amazing wildlife. There are so many good vibes here and I think that helped me a lot.”
Meronk started his round off the 10th, which he birdied. His two eagles came on the par-five 18th and the par-four sixth hole, where he chipped in.
“I played really solid and had many chances to go even lower, but I’m very happy with how I played. I made some good decisions out there. My first eagle on 18 I hit a drive left of the fairway and I hit a six iron to about 15 feet and holed the putt. The second eagle on the sixth I holed a bunker shot. My short game and putting was pretty solid all day. This is my second time at Leopard Creek and I love it here. I love seeing the animals in their natural habitat.”
Behind them, Jamieson was equally delighted with his start. “A strong finish for a 66 is perfect as far as I’m concerned. I enjoy the tougher conditions this golf course offers. I like a tournament where the winner is 10 under, not 20 under.”
And Strydom singled out his bogey-free round as his best ever on Leopard Creek: “I think it’s probably one of my best rounds in a very long time. It’s mentally tough out there. To keep the bogeys off the card is always special, but especially on a course as tough as this one. I think it’s the best round I’ve ever played here.”
He’s also not too concerned with being three shots back after the first round: “There are always some players that go low in the first round, but my dad always taught me that you can’t win the golf tournament on the first day, but you can certainly lose it. I’m just keeping focused on my own game.”