Fichardt tames monster par-5 on his way to first round lead

Darren Fichardt birdied the par-five fourth hole, which at 626 metres (685 yards) is the longest hole in European Tour history, on his way to a seven-under-par 65 at The Els Club, Copperleaf, on Thursday.

Sweden’s Bjorn Akesson is his nearest challenger, with England’s Gary Lockerbie and David Howell, Chile’s Mark Tullo, India’s Jeev Milkha Singh and South Africa’s Jean Hugo all on five-under.

“You can almost not get up there for three, never mind two,” said Fichardt. “I hit driver, three iron, seven iron and holed a 12-foot putt. But I mean, at that length, into the wind and with the fairways not running, it’s not a fun hole.”

With almost half of his career victories coming in either February or March, it’s no wonder that Fichardt likes to get the maximum benefit out of this time in the season.

He is hunting his second victory this month and he teed off the 10th and birdied that, then made four more birdies to the turn, and came home with a further three birdies and only one bogey.

“Playing well, putting well, chipping well and everything is good, so my confidence is high,” he said of his one-stroke lead, and the win and seventh-place finish he’s enjoyed in the last two weeks.

Darren Clarke opened with a three under 69, Michael Campbell a 72 and Jose Maria Olazabal a 76, including a second nine of 42.

For all the talk of the length of this golf course, there were mixed reactions from the top of the leaderboard on day one.

And after bringing down the monster fourth, Fichardt bogeyed the tame par-four seventh. “I birdied all the tough holes and then the easiest hole on the golf course I bogey – that’s how this game is. It was a very weak hole, but the other 17 were good.”

After his 67, Lockerbie described the course as, “Very long on paper, but with the altitude and the heat it doesn’t play all that long, so you can scare yourself if you look at yardages all the time.”

And Singh said his own 67 was built on an attitude of altitude. “Mentally I’m telling myself that I’m at high altitude. I’m using a metres book and if I hit a seven-iron 175 yards then I’m hitting it 175 metres here. I’m just telling myself it’s going as far, but it’s still very long. Of the four par fives I could only get on two in two.”

But the chasing pack is very aware of the confidence in Fichardt’s game at present and the threat he poses despite this being his eighth consecutive tournament.

Hugo, who set the course record of a staggering 10-under 62 when chasing down Charl Schwartzel to win a Sunshine Tour tournament in 2010, was very aware of the threat. “The wind looked as if it would pose a problem this morning, and then we arrived to see Darren shooting 65,” he said.

For Fichardt, it’s a question of keeping on doing what he’s been doing for nearly two months: “Eight weeks in a row and I’m just going with the flow and hitting one shot at a time. Let the clubs do the work and the rest will follow.”

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