Shaun Norris was one of a handful of golfers who returned from Asia to play in the Sun City Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club, and he celebrated with a five-under-par 67 on Thursday to take the first round lead.
His card included an eagle, four birdies and just one bogey as he edged clear by one stroke of Jbe’ Kruger, who, like Norris, also came back from Asia. Theunis Spangenberg and Vaughn Groenewald shared third on three-under-par 69.
“It’s great to be back in South Africa,” Norris said. “You know to see friends and family again, it’s just fantastic. Even the food puts me in a better mood because it’s so much better here.”
And he took advantage of the good feeling by making an eagle-three on the second hole to get his round kick-started. ““It was nice to get off to a fast start,” he said. “I made eagle on two and then made a couple birdies after that, so I was four-under through six. Getting a start like that always helps and it’s nice that I held it together after that.
“It was really nice out there today. I did everything really well, from driving to iron play to putting. I actually putted really well, so it was nice.
“I’ve been working really hard on my putting and it seems to be paying off. You know, the greens are running beautifully so that always helps and it does give you that extra confidence.”
Kruger had a similar start to his round, also making eagle on two, but for the rest, it was something of a roller-coaster ride for him: there were three bogeys interspersed with five birdies. “It’s one of those really tough golf courses, a bit like Leopard Creek, I suppose,” he said. “I love this course. I love coming here. It’s probably one of my favourite golf courses in the country.”
Spangenberg also made three bogeys in his round, but was pleased with his day’s work. “I hit the ball quite nicely, and when I missed the greens, I made a few good up-and-downs,” he said.
Groenewald was more consistent, dropping only one shot on the sixth and making four birdies in his 69. “Gary Player Country Club is a tough course,” he said. “I played well in the pro-am and shot 74. You’ve just got to keep it in the fairway and in the right places on the greens.”
Defending champion Keith Horne – who was another of the players returning from Asia – carded an opening one-under 71.