Kearney heads Irish quartet as lightning strikes in Joburg

Adam McKendry

Niall Kearney (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

Niall Kearney leads the Irish charge at the inaugural DP World Tour event, the Joburg Open in South Africa, but Jonathan Caldwell will be rueing a bogey-filled first round at the Firethorn Course at Randpark.

Dubliner Kearney carded four birdies and three bogeys in a one-under 70 in Johannesburg that leaves him five shots off the lead, held by Angel Hidalgo and Thriston Lawrence at six-under.

However, for a long time it looked like Caldwell would be the leading local man as he superbly bounced back after starting his round with three straight bogeys by shooting six birdies in his next eight holes to reach three-under.


But just when it looked like he was making a push for the top of the leaderboard, he ran into trouble, double-bogeys at the par-five 12th and his final hole of the day, the par-four 16th, dropping him back down again to level-par.

The Clandeboye man is among a small group of players who will return on Friday morning to finish their first rounds after poor weather suspended play, as will Paul Dunne, who is three-over through 15.

The Greystones man, who has dropped outside the top-1700 in the world after hand surgery in 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic, mixed just two birdies with five bogeys to sit in a share of 105th at the close of play.

That means 33-year-old Kearney is the best of the Irish as he produced a relatively stress-free 70 that has him just outside the top-30 after the opening day’s play.

The former Walker Cup star countered a bogey at the second with a birdie at the third before a run of six straight pars, then did the same at 10 and 11 to stay level-par, with a birdie-bogey-birdie finish seeing him back in the clubhouse at one-under.

That has him five back of Spain’s Hidalgo, who is the clubhouse leader at six-under, and South Africa’s own Lawrence, who could yet hold the first round lead on his own if he birdies the final hole of his first round, which he has yet to complete.

Hidalgo set the target by bouncing back from a bogey on his opening hole with six birdies, an eagle and one further dropped shot, and he was quickly joined in the afternoon by Lawrence, whose two eagles, three birdies and one eagle has him tied atop the leaderboard.

“It was a lot of fun. This was like my third DP World Tour event in three years, so I was a bit nervous early in my round,” said a delighted Hidalgo.
“Today my putting was the best, I think I made 24 putts or something like that, and it was absolutely key. I’ve been putting well in the last few weeks, and I don’t know why but it has changed a lot.

“This start means a lot to me. It gives me a lot of confidence. It’s great to be here and playing with the best, so let’s start the party.”

With three places at this year’s Open Championship at St Andrew’s on offer for the three best finishers at Randpark who are not yet qualified, the leading pair are currently in possession of two of them, with their nearest challenger, Ashley Chesters, in line for the third.
The Englishman burst out to a fast start with five birdies in his first six holes and would have held a share of the lead but for his only bogey of the day at the 18th, with a group of seven players one shot further back at four-under, including South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli.
“I’m just going to keep smashing the driver out there. I think if I can hit driver as far as I can it’s going to benefit me,” said Frittelli after his opening 67.
“I’m just going to keep my foot on the gas. In a lot of these Sunshine Tour events I’ve been a little bit cautious and tried to just keep it in play, but now I’m just going to go at it full tilt and see where it ends up after 72 holes.”
The first-ever DP World Tour event was even christened by a hole-in-one in the opening round, South Africa’s JC Ritchie holing out on the 223-yard par-three 17th on his way to a one-over 72, which also included a triple-bogey eight at the par-five 12th.
There was another kicker for the 27-year-old as he initially believed he had won the Jaguar car sitting behind the tee box at the par-three, only to discover the F-Type that has been put up as the prize is only up for grabs at the weekend!
Meanwhile, Cormac Sharvin’s brutal run that has seen him finish inside the top-20 just once since the return of golf after the pandemic, continued as he opened with a seven-over 78 that contained two birdies, seven bogeys and a double-bogey.
The Ardglass man, who lost full playing rights on the DP World Tour after last season, is 146th on the leaderboard and will need a big second round just to put himself in a position to avoid missing an 11th cut in 13 events.

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