Carvell’s first SA Open turns into a blast

Matthew Carvell took simply enjoying his first experience of playing the South African Open Championship to new levels on Thursday when he carded a superb six-under-par 66 to trail by two in the opening round.

He dropped just two shots in a round that included eight birdies – three of them in a row after he dropped his second shot, which was as emphatic as riposte as he could have wished for.

“It’s a little bit overwhelming,” he said, “with these interviews and everything. This is my first SA Open. I’m just trying to enjoy the experience and see what happens.”

He finished the day in a share of second with Swede Henrik Stenson behind leader Merrick Bremner, and ahead of the likes of Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Martin Kaymer.

Not that he found that intimidating: “It’s a different feeling,” he said. “It’s not necessarily added pressure; it’s just different. Those guys are world class players and I’m not even going to think about getting to their level yet, but it’s nice to know that I can compete with them.”

Part of his success was his putting. “I had 26 putts today,” he said when quizzed about greens many found a little difficult. “The grains are very important on these greens. I don’t know if other guys are missing that, but if the grain is growing with the slope, it’s going to turn more.

“I holed a good few putts today and I’ve definitely got my great caddie to thank for that. Our reads have been pretty similar,” he added.

Stenson shook off the cobwebs of jetlag for his 66, and, while he wasn’t as confident of his reads as Carvell was, he didn’t need to be with an eagle two on the 343-metre (375-yard) 17th.

“There’s not much to hold back when you’ve got 330 metres to the pin,” he said. “You just give it your all and I hit a real nice drive and it came up on the fringe about 15 feet away and I managed to make the little putt.”

Like Bremner, who was extremely long off the tee, Stenson also found he was able to take a lot of danger out of play with his drives. “I drove the ball as well as I’ve done in the last couple of years,” he said, “and I set up plenty of birdie chances.

“My putting was not bad, but it wasn’t great either – it was somewhere in between. If I had been on fire on the greens, it could have been really low today,” he added.

Bremner’s course-record-equalling eight-under was really low, and it came from uncharacteristically conservative play after he sped to the turn in six-under-par 30. “As the round progressed, I started playing a lot better, or more conservatively, if I can put it like that,” he said.

The work he has done with a sports psychologist has made him think that way. “I made sure I hit the fairway and then made sure I hit the right part of the green for a makeable chance. Having a good caddie also helps. James Stewart, my cousin, has been carrying for me for almost two years now, and we’ve grown as a team. He speaks me into some shots as opposed to just pulling the driver and hitting it,” said Bremner.

Last year, Bremner opened with a 66. His closing round of 75 let him down, and maturity may change that.

And the man who is playing his first SA Open will just enjoy the experience: “I’m just going to enjoy the week and maybe get some good TV coverage,” laughed Carvell. “I’ll see what happens. If I shoot 80 tomorrow, I’m still the same guy.”

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