Thursday at the Volvo Golf Champions tournament was windy, but Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin navigated his way around Durban Country Club without a dropped shot and led the first round on five-under-par.
“It was tough, the crosswinds very strong compared to the first two days. But I managed to get everything right, bogey free round, which was the key. It's a new year, pretty good for me to start this way, so that's great,” he said.
The four-time European Tour winner spruced up the round with birdies at the 17th and 18th for a one-shot lead over defending champion Louis Oosthuizen.
Less than half of the 36 competitors broke par on Thursday as Durban Country Club found its defence in strong crosswinds, but Jacquelin was comfortable in the blustery conditions. He took driver on six holes and made eight successful scrambles, but it was his 23 putts that made the difference.
“I'm better when the conditions are difficult. Yeah, I like it when it's tough. Stay focused all day long and I know if you save par, you are always going to be around. That's the way I like to play,” he said.
Louis Oosthuizen started his title defence with a confident 68 and took up sole second at the close of round one. He was rusty after traveling through the Namib Desert during the festive break and bogeyed the first hole, but from there onwards it was classic Oosthuizen. His pure swing came out to play and he shot 33 on the back nine to reach the clubhouse one stroke off the pace.
“When I saw the wind I knew it was going to be tough. I like that type of golf, so I kept it together. I hit one driver and the rest was three-woods and long irons.
“I feel confident after today. It’s weird, because I wasn’t that confident coming into the week, but today was good and I just need to get the back physically right and I’ll be good to go,” he said.
A fit and noticeably skinnier Darren Clarke birdied the 18th for three-under-par 69 and shared third with France’s Victor Dubuisson. A further seven players shared fifth on two-under.
Jacquelin enjoyed the tough conditions, but no wind was forecast for Friday. The 16-under-par winning total from last year’s ‘tournament of champions’ means that the Frenchman must continue to score in order to fend off the world-class competition.
“I score better when it's difficult, the wind or the rain or whatever the condition is, or if the course is difficult. This is a short course, so if you manage to putt the ball in play, you'll have a chance for birdie,” he said.