South African hopes are pinned on Branden Grace, Louis Oousthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Jaco Van Zyl.
Unfortunately, Grace was the only South African not to come away with a point on the first day of play having lost 3 and 1 to the USA’s Chris Kirk. Kirk got off to a flyer with three straight birdies and an eagle in his first six holes. Only needing 22 putts in 17 holes, the American was in such spectacular form, Grace could only sit back and watch as the match ended on the 17th hole.
Van Zyl, who needs a strong showing this week in order to receive a Masters invite, was matched up against Danny Willett. Willett, who is currently ranked 11th on the Official World Golf Ranking, is playing some of his best golf and would pose to be a massive challenge for Van Zyl. The match would prove to be a captivating one, thanks to the stark difference in playing style on the day. Van Zyl made two birdies and a bogey through 18 holes, while Willett carded four birdies, two bogeys and a double in his first 12 holes. Van Zyl showed fantastic composure to birdie the 16th to square the match and go on to earn half a point.
Schwartzel had a relatively stress-free day in a match he never trailed. However, playing against Danny Lee from New Zealand, he still needed to take the match down the last hole to secure victory. He said, “Danny made a really good comeback, made a few birdies on the back nine. Then it felt like we both started playing a little scrappy and were just really hanging in there by the skin of our teeth. I’m just happy that I hit some good shots coming in.”
Oosthuizen faced Australia’s Matt Jones, in a match that saw him come out victorious 2 and 1. Oosthuizen made a mid-round change to his ball flight that seemed to make the difference. He said, “The front nine, (the wind) was to me all over the place. I started, midway through the front nine, started hitting really low shots just to take out the wind completely. Obviously when you get down to the 12th, you can see easily where the wind is.”
Day two will see Grace face Sweden’s David Lingmerth in a must win encounter, while Oousthuizen will be up against Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger. Schwartzel will play the USA’s Charley Hoffman and Van Zyl will peg it up against the USA’s Brooks Koepka.