On a morning dominated by foreign players, it was Spain’s Jordi Garcia Pinto who stood tallest for the overseas contingent as he fired a first-round score of 68 to find himself one behind early leader Ernie Els at the 104th South African Open hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni on Thursday.
The round, which included seven birdies, was marred by a closing stretch of three successive bogeys, but on a difficult morning with the Glendower rough set thick, the four-under score was enough for sole possession of second place midway through the day.
“The overall score is great, four under on this golf course is a great round,” commented the Spaniard. “It was sad to finish that way, but I knew that this golf course is so tough so I am very happy with my score.
“I knew I was making a lot of birdies, but the only thing I was thinking was to keep making more birdies. From the beginning I knew this course was so tough, and I was respecting it a lot because I knew if I miss one shot, it’s a bogey or worse. So you have to really think about what you’re doing while playing it to avoid these situations,” he added.
Pinto turned pro in 2012, and had the option of fast tracking his route to the European Tour by playing in the Qualifying School that year. However, he instead opted to cut his teeth on the European Challenge Tour, and has done so to good effect for the last three years.
After finishing 53rd in the 2012 Order of Merit, he tasted victory for the first time at the Barclays Kenya Open in 2013 en route to a 24th-place finish. In 2014, things went to the next level, as he once again joined the winners’ circle with a victory at Saint Omer. He also finished second at the NH Collection Open, an event co-sanctioned with the European Tour, and eventually ended the year seventh in the standings.
“I could have played the Q-School every year, but I didn’t,” the 24-year old explained. “I thought that if I finished in the top 15 of the Challenge Tour, I would be playing really good golf. So (achieving that) gave me a lot of confidence for this year, and it’s nice to make a good start now.”
Els flew the flag for the South Africans with a fine round of 67, which included six birdies. However, he has a host of internationals hot on his heels, as Niclas Fasth, Edoardo Molinari, Raphael Jacquelin and Tom Murray all fired scores of 69 to share third place.
The South African quartet of Shaun Norris, Thomas Aiken, Chris Swanepoel and Tjaart van der Walt all find themselves a further stroke adrift, sharing seventh place with four other golfers on two-under par 70.