On Thursday Divan Gerber went for the flags during round one of the Sunshine Big Easy Tour’s Kempton Park tournament and shot 64 to share the halfway lead.
“It’s been a while since I was up there, and I’m really happy with my game at the moment. Hopefully I can continue this on the course tomorrow, and may the best man win!” he smiled.
The stocky man from Bethlehem played his way around the 6548-metre track in eight-under-par and set the clubhouse lead, but was soon caught by Ignatius Mketekete, who joined him at the top.
The leaders will head into the final round with a one-stroke cushion, chased by third-placed Musiwalo Nethunzwi, Anton Haig and Attie Schwartzel. A further three players loom in a share of sixth on six-under-par.
Gerber took a break after his four rounds at the Zambia Open last week and skipped his practice round at Kempton Park, which meant he arrived fresh and ready on Thursday.
“I decided to change it up a bit and skip my practice round, because Zambia was a tiring week,” he explained. “I felt good today and knew it was going to happen eventually, which it did. So all-in-all it was a beautiful day.”
Scoring three birdies from the second to the fourth was a highlight for the 24-year-old, but the real diamond of his round was an eagle at the par-five eighth.
“I made a good eagle on eight, where I hit driver and then took sand wedge from about 102 metres out. I hit it to six feet and nailed the putt, which was a great putt to sink!” he beamed.
Mketekete has toured for the last nine years, during which he’s built plenty of experience. With 64 under his belt and the game feeling good, he’s looking for more than a good result this week.
“I told myself that I’ve played golf for nine years now and the experience counts for a lot. My experience will help me to take tomorrow as it comes and I know there is pressure at the top, but I’m going out there to give it my best,” he said.
The Zimbabwean’s card was crisp: he made four birdies on either side of the turn, made no drops, and chased down the lead set out before him.
“Of late I have been struggling a bit, but I’m building confidence as I play. I hit 17 greens in regulation today and made some putts, so it’s all about giving myself chances on this course,” he explained.
Haig is well known for having won the Johnnie Walker Classic in 2007, but is currently in the process of rediscovering his golf after an extended period away from the game.
While his ability is unquestionable, getting back to European Tour glory is a long path. Haig has chosen to start the climb on the Big Easy Tour and on Thursday he made good headway.
“It’s about getting into contention again. It’s been a while, and it’s nice to see my name near the top of the leaderboard. I’m looking forward to being competitive again,” he smiled.
Looking to climb the golfing ranks for the first time is Nethunzwi, a rookie on tour. The young gun is one of the most exciting young players from this year’s crop, and on Thursday shared third place on seven-under.
With a big smile and shy demeanour, the 23-year-old quietly goes about his business on the course. On Thursday that involved making six birdies and an eagle in prime scoring conditions.
“I just need to continue with the way I’ve been playing this season. It’s not the first time I’m up there, and this time I want to go for it and finish right up there,” he said.
Also in the mix was Schwartzel, who has recorded eight top-10s on the Big Easy Tour. He started on the back stretch and tore through that nine, beginning with three birdies on his first three holes.
By the time he turned at five-under Schwartzel had his tail up, and made a further two birdies before bogeys at the fourth and seventh slowed his charge. He recovered the drops with birdies at the eighth and ninth to end the day tied for third.