Scots Craig Lee (right) and Alastair Forsyth each went seven-under-par in the opening round of the Joburg Open on Thursday to top the leaderboard in the €1.3-million tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour and the European Tour.
In the end, Lee’s 65 on the par-72 East Course at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington was perhaps the better performance than Forsyth’s 64 on the par-71 West Course, coming as it did on the layout widely regarded as the tougher of the two.
The 210-man field plays a round on each of the East and West courses at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington before the cut to the top 65 players and ties, after which the remainder of the 72-hole event is played over the East Course.
The Scots shared the first round lead with South African Justin Walters and Italy’s Edoardo Molinari, with eight players crammed on six-under-par. Defending champion Richard Sterne carded a five-under-par 67 on the East Course.
“I’ve played really nice golf for that, so I’m delighted with the score that I’ve managed to put together,” said Lee, acknowledging that it was difficult to judge the relative strength of his position until the whole field had played both tracks.
“It’s really hard to figure out where you are in the field with two golf courses, and with the East being slightly tougher I feel like I’m in a good position,” he said. “If we can keep the same level of golf then we might be able to separate ourselves from the bunch.”
He had moved to seven-under by the time he reached the 15th, but a bogey on 17 put him on the back foot briefly. “I hit driver off the tee on 17 and it was a good drive, so I had 93 metres to the pin,” he said. “The pin was really tight to the left bunker and I hit it maybe four yards left and two yards too long, and it trickled into the bunker.”
He hit back with a birdie on 18 – itself a work of scrambling art: “Another good drive there and then I took an aggressive line with the rescue, but I didn’t quite get up to the pin and it fell into the trap,” he said. “I didn’t play the best bunker shot and I was still short of the green, but I managed to hole it from about three metres.”
Forsyth (left), on the other hand, was faultless for his 64 on the West Course. “The front nine was probably as good as I’ve played in a long time,” he said. “I seemed to do everything right on the front, but I struggled a little on the back, where I ended up between clubs a few times. No dropped shots and seven birdies, so I’m never going to complain with that.”
For Walters, it helped to be drawn with Molinari, who went as low as he did. “Eddie is such a solid player. You just feed off him all the time – he doesn’t really hit many bad shots, he putts it great, he does everything great,” he said. “Certainly, when you step on the tee you know he’s going to play a good round, and if you can hang around with him you’re going to be right where you need to be.”
Like Walters, Molinari dropped just a single shot.
Amongst the players on six-under were 2011 South African Open champion Hennie Otto, George Coetzee and Graham van der Merwe playing on his home course.